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GMB (trade union)

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HeadquartersLondon, England
Decrease 570,107 (2022)[2]
Key people
Gary Smith (Gen Sec)
AffiliationsTUC, ICTU, STUC, CSEU, Labour Party,[3] The European Federation of Public Service Unions.

The GMB is a general trade union in the United Kingdom which has more than 560,000 members. Its members work in nearly all industrial sectors, in retail, security, schools, distribution, the utilities, social care, the National Health Service (NHS), ambulance service and local government.

Structural history[edit]

GMB originates from a series of mergers, beginning when the National Amalgamated Union of Labour (NAUL), National Union of General Workers (NUGW) and the Municipal Employees Association (MEA) in 1924 joined into a new union, named the National Union of General and Municipal Workers (NUGMW). Although the new union was one of the largest in the country it grew relatively slowly over the following decades; this changed in the 1970s when David Basnett created new sections for staff, and hotel and catering workers, and changed the union's name to the General and Municipal Workers' Union (GMWU) in 1974.[4]

In 1982, following a merger with the Amalgamated Society of Boilermakers, Shipwrights, Blacksmiths and Structural Workers (ASBSBSW), the union was renamed the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trade Union (GMBATU). This was sometimes shortened to "GMB", which in 1987 became the official name of the union.[5] For several years following the highly contested merger boilermaker members retained a distinct identity in GMB's Craft Section.

The union has absorbed the following smaller unions:[5]

In 1992, the GMB for the first time allocated all of its members to one of eight industrial sections: clothing and textiles; commercial services; construction, furniture and allied; energy and utilities; engineering; food and leisure; process; and public services.[5]

The GMB's sections were rationalised in 2006, with the union since then consisting of GMB Commercial Services, GMB Manufacturing, and GMB Public Services.[6]

Thorne Credit Union[edit]

Thorne Credit Union Limited is a savings and loans co-operative established by the trade union for its members in 1998. Trading as TCU Money, it began life as GMB Lancashire Region Credit Union and was rolled out nationwide in 2000.[7] TCU is named after Will Thorne, founder of NUGW forerunner, the National Union of Gas Workers and General Labourers and one of the first Labour Members of Parliament. The credit union is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the PRA. Ultimately, like the banks and building societies, members' savings are protected against business failure by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.[8]

Landmark Uber employment tribunal case[edit]

GMB lampost banner in 2019 in Brighton

On 28 October 2016, in a landmark ruling if not overturned on appeal, the Central London Employment Tribunal ruled that Uber drivers are "workers" entitled to the minimum wage, paid holiday, sick leave and other normal worker entitlements, rather than self-employed. Two Uber drivers had brought the case to the employment tribunal with the assistance of the GMB Union on 20 July 2016,[9][10][11] as a test case on behalf of a group of 19 drivers.[12] As a consequence, The Pensions Regulator is considering if the ruling obliges Uber to create a workplace pension scheme.[13] The ruling could have implications wider than just Uber, throughout the so-called gig economy.[14] On 10 November 2017 the Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the first tribunal's ruling. Uber indicated that it would appeal further.[15]

The law firm Leigh Day started the legal action against Uber on behalf of 25 members of the GMB union, which initially included J. Farrar and Y. Aslam, although the two pursued this latest case with a different union, the Independent Worker's Union of Great Britain.[16]

On 10 February 2017 a similar case involving Pimlico Plumbers was confirmed at the Court of Appeal. A worker who had suffered a heart attack was found to have been unfairly or wrongfully dismissed.[17][18][19]

Another similar case against parcel delivery company Hermes Group, supported by the GMB through lawyers Leigh Day, had a similar outcome at an employment tribunal in Leeds on 25 June 2018. Hermes are considering an appeal. The GMB stated the ruling was likely to affect 14,500 Hermes couriers.[20] General Secretary, Tim Roache, described it as:

another nail in the coffin of the exploitative, bogus self-employment model which is increasingly rife across the UK ... Bosses can’t just pick and choose which laws to obey. Workers' rights were hard won, GMB isn’t about to sit back and let them be eroded or removed by the latest loophole employers have come up with to make a few extra quid.[20]

Political activity[edit]

GMB offices in Liverpool

GMB is one of the three largest affiliates to the Labour Party. It is a significant financial contributor to the Party's national and local organisation.[21] GMB gives Labour up to £2m a year in affiliation fees and other funds, making it the third largest union donor to the party.[22]

In 1991, GMB was the first British trade union to set up an office in Brussels and has been particularly engaged in seeking to influence European Union legislation that sets minimum standards for workers and for health and safety across the EU single market.

In 2008, GMB Congress voted to withdraw local funding from around a third of the 108 Labour MPs whose constituencies received support from GMB, due to the perception that some MPs within the party were treating workers with "contempt" and generally not working in the interests of the working class and GMB members.[23] Despite this the Congress opposed disaffiliation from the party.

In the 2010 Labour Leadership Election, GMB endorsed Ed Miliband over his competitor and brother David Miliband.

In 2013, GMB announced it was cutting its affiliation fund from £1.2m to £150,000 by reducing the number of members it affiliates from 420,000 to 50,000.[24]

In 2013, GMB Congress, the lay member ruling body, adopted a 14-point plan to encourage GMB members to become active in the Labour Party and to stand as Labour candidates for public office (Parliament and local government). GMB has two representatives on the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party, Kathy Abu-Bakir and Gavin Sibthorpe. In Ireland, GMB is affiliated to the Irish Labour Party.[25]

While in the 2015 Labour leadership election GMB did not endorse a candidate, in the 2016 Labour leadership election, the union endorsed Owen Smith against incumbent leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, the GMB clashed with the party over the issues of Trident renewal and fracking, both of which are opposed by Corbyn.[26]

In the 2020 Labour leadership election, the GMB endorsed Lisa Nandy, who subsequently finished third.


The GMB is led by a general secretary and treasurer. In 2005 Paul Kenny was appointed the acting general secretary, in place of Kevin Curran who stepped down after being suspended on full pay during an inquiry into ballot-rigging during the union's leadership election. The episode was seen as a power struggle between the national office and powerful regional heads, led by Kenny, who opposed centralisation. Kenny had lost the 2003 vote to Curran. In May 2006, Kenny was elected unopposed as general secretary.

Tim Roache was elected as general secretary and treasurer in November 2015, receiving 56.7% of the vote on a turnout of 4.2%, beating the one other candidate, Paul McCarthy.[27] Roache took up the post in 2016, but resigned in April 2020 after allegations of harassment.[28]

General Secretaries[edit]

1924: Will Thorne
1934: Charles Dukes
1946: Tom Williamson
1962: Jack Cooper
1973: David Basnett
1986: John Edmonds
2003: Kevin Curran
2005: Paul Kenny
2016: Tim Roache
2021: Gary Smith

Deputy General Secretaries[edit]

This post was known as "assistant general secretary" until 1935.

1924: Peter Tevenan and Ralph Spence
1933: Ralph Spence
1935: Post abolished
1991: Tom Burlison
1996: Steve Pickering
2003: Debbie Coulter
2008: Post vacant


This position was known as "Chair of the Executive" or "National Chairman" from 1938 until the early 1990s.

1924: J. R. Clynes
1938: Fred Marshall
1946: Thomas William Kerry
1949: William E. Hopkin
1952: Jack Cooper
1962: Bernard Swindell
1964: Charles Smith
1970: Alex M. Donnet
1976: Derek Gladwin
1982: Dick Pickering
1987: James Morrell
1988: Olga Mean
1992: Dick Pickering
1997: Mary Turner
2018: Barbara Plant

2020 internal inquiry[edit]

In 2020, following the resignation of general secretary Tim Roache and subsequently receiving anonymous allegations, the union conducted a barrister-led internal inquiry.[29] This concluded that bullying, misogyny, cronyism and sexual harassment were "endemic" within the union. More specifically the report stated "The GMB is institutionally sexist. The General Secretaries and all regional secretaries are, and always have been, men. Women are underrepresented throughout the GMB’s ranks", concluding that culture must change for the GMB to become a safe and rewarding place for women.[30] The report made 27 recommendations for change, on which the union's National President, Barbara Plant, promised to act.[31][32]

Sports sponsorship[edit]

The GMB sponsors the Nottingham Panthers ice hockey team[33] and the Castleford Tigers rugby league team.

Until May 2011 it sponsored Swindon Town Football Club, but when Paolo Di Canio was appointed manager the GMB terminated the relationship because of Di Canio's political views. A GMB spokesman said: "He has openly voiced support for Mussolini so it beggars belief that Swindon could have appointed him, especially given the multi-ethnic nature of the team and the town."[34] The union sponsored Port Vale for the 2013–14 football season.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "GMB: annual returns". GOV.UK. 11 June 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  2. ^ "GMB Form AR21 for year ended 31st December 2022" (PDF). GOV.UK. Retrieved 26 July 2023.
  3. ^ "TULO's member unions". Unions Together. Archived from the original on 11 March 2012. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  4. ^ Arthur Marsh and John B. Smethurst, Historical Directory of Trade Unions, vol.5, p.486
  5. ^ a b c Arthur Marsh and John B. Smethurst, Historical Directory of Trade Unions, vol.5, pp.438-440, 486-488
  6. ^ "Your GMB". GMB. Archived from the original on 2 July 2018. Retrieved 2 July 2018.
  7. ^ About TCU Money Thorne Credit Union (retrieved 21 February 2015)
  8. ^ Credit Union Guide Financial Services Compensation Scheme (retrieved 2 April 2015)
  9. ^ "Drivers and campaigners hail Uber employment ruling". BBC News. 28 October 2016. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  10. ^ Aditya Chakrabortty (28 October 2016). "Uber ruling is a massive boost for a fairer jobs market". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  11. ^ Between (1) Mr Y Aslam (2) Mr J Farrar & Others and (1) Uber B.V. (2) Uber London Ltd (3) Uber Britannia Ltd (PDF) (Report). Employment Tribunals. 28 October 2016. Case Nos: 2202550/2015 & Others. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  12. ^ Hilary Osborne (28 October 2016). "Uber loses right to classify UK drivers as self-employed". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 October 2016.
  13. ^ Jane Croft, Madhumita Murgia (28 October 2016). "Uber drivers win UK legal battle for workers' rights". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 10 December 2022. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  14. ^ Costas Pitas (28 October 2016). "UK tribunal rules Uber drivers deserve workers' rights". Reuters. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  15. ^ Davies, Rob (10 November 2017). "Uber loses appeal in UK employment rights case". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 November 2017.
  16. ^ "Uber loses court appeal against drivers' rights". BBC. 10 November 2017. Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  17. ^ Ritvik Carvalho (10 February 2017). "UK court backs plumber in new challenge to 'gig' economy". Reuters. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  18. ^ Kevin Peachey (10 February 2017). "Plumber wins workers' rights battle against Pimlico Plumbers". BBC News. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  19. ^ Pimlico Plumbers v Smith (PDF) (Report). Court of Appeal (Civil Division). 10 February 2017. Case No: A2/2015/0196 Citation: [2017] EWCA Civ 51. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  20. ^ a b Siddique, Haroon (25 June 2018). "Hermes couriers are workers, not self-employed, tribunal rules". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 June 2018.
  21. ^ Party Finance – The Electoral Commission : Regulatory issues : Political parties : Registers : Register of donations to political parties[dead link]
  22. ^ Hélène, Mulholland (14 February 2012). "GMB union to debate future links with Labour party". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  23. ^ "GMB set to cut Labour MP funding". BBC. 9 June 2008. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  24. ^ "GMB cuts funds it gives Labour from £1.2m to £150,000" BBC
  25. ^ Party structure » Who we are » The Labour Party Archived 3 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ Watt, Nicholas (11 January 2016). "GMB boss warns Corbyn not to risk defence jobs with Trident plans". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  27. ^ Private Eye. London: Pressdram Ltd. 5 August 2016. {{cite magazine}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  28. ^ Watson, Iain (29 April 2020). "Allegations probed as GMB union boss resigns". BBC News. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  29. ^ Heffer, Greg (29 April 2020). "GMB Union boss Tim Roache who quit due to ill health now being investigated over his conduct". Sky News. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  30. ^ Jones, Alan (2 September 2020). "GMB union urged to change its culture to end bullying and sexual harassment". Belfast Telegraph. Press Association. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  31. ^ Syal, Rajeev (3 September 2020). "GMB union institutionally sexist, inquiry finds". The Guardian.
  32. ^ "Independent Investigation". GMB. 2 September 2020. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  33. ^ "The Official Website of the Nottingham Panthers". Archived from the original on 10 April 2012. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
  34. ^ "Swindon sponsor pulls out after Paolo Di Canio appointment". The Guardian. 21 May 2011. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
  35. ^ "Valiants strike up a new union". The Sentinel. 28 June 2013. Retrieved 28 June 2013.

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