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Disability History Month: Community’s proud tradition

Steven McGurk
5th December 2019

“Justice not Charity…”

For Disability History Month, Steven McGurk, our National Executive Council member representing disabled workers, reflects on the proud tradition of the National League of the Blind and Disabled.

Disability history month is a time to reflect on the leaders of the past, and to remember the challenges faced and overcome by many activists throughout the years, and the lessons we can learn from those who have come before us.

I am privileged to represent disabled members throughout the UK, also as vice chair of the National League of the Blind and Disabled I have been involved in many campaigns to improve equality for disabled workers over many years.

One event I must reflect on this year is the journey of The National League of the Blind and Disabled (NLBD).

The union was founded, as the National League of the Blind, in 1899 as the first trade union for disabled people in the UK, and it affiliated to the Trades Union Congress in 1902.

The League organised its first strike in 1912. In 1920, under the banner of “Justice not Charity”, it organised marches to Trafalgar Square from Leeds, Manchester and Newport in support of what became the Blind Persons Act 1920.

As a national executive member of my own trade union Community I am privileged to represent disabled members throughout the UK, also as vice chair of the National League of the Blind and Disabled I have been involved in many campaigns to improve equality for disabled workers over many years.

The union voted to rename itself the “National League of the Blind and Disabled” in 1968, and by 1979 had a membership of just under 5,000, and became the ‘go to’ trade union for disability issues.

By 2000, it had 4,000 members, and it merged with the much larger Iron and Steel Trades Confederation to form the basis of what would become Community in 2004.

It had a strong record of political campaigning to win rights, recognition and support for disabled people, so the idea of being part of a community-focused union appealed to its members.

The decision for the NLBD to become part of Community has allowed us to continue to have a strong voice within the movement, and to drive positive change for disabled workers throughout the UK.

2019 is the 120-year anniversary of the National League of the Blind and Disabled, and to achieve such a milestone would not have been possible without those inspirational leaders of the past and the support of our union, Community.

This blog originally appeared as part of the TUC’s coverage of Disability History Month, which runs from 22 November to 22 December.