In the 1870s agricultural workers across Britain began a whirlwind campaign to organise trade unions. Martin Empson looks at the involvement of the now little known leader of the movement, Joseph Arch, who died a century ago this month and whose contribution shouldn’t be forgotten.
Joseph Arch, agricultural labourer, trade unionist and Liberal MP, died in February 1919 at the age of 92. Today he is almost forgotten, yet in his lifetime tens of thousands of agricultural workers looked to him as a leader. In the 1870s, in response to poverty and unemployment in agricultural communities, he was at the heart of an explosion of trade unionism that terrified landowners and farmers.