Claimants Unions


This project is a collaboration between Cathy Leech, Georgia Anderson and Ash Reid, who are independent researchers working in public histories, oral history, feminist cinema and archiving practices.

One result of our research so far is a booklet, prepared by Cathy Leech. You can access it on this page below, and as a downloadable PDF here.

These extracts are from oral history interviews with Dave Morris and Joan Twelves conducted by Cathy and Georgia in April 2023.

Joan 1

Joan recalls how she got involved in Southend Claimants Union as a young single mother in the 1970s. They held weekly meetings in a room in a hotel on the pier and many members were aligned with the Communist Party. She then got involved in the wider CU movement, travelling to East London where there was a larger group, overlapping with the squatters’ movement. She became one of three NFCU press officers, learning many useful skills.

Joan 2

Being a member of the CU movement reduced Joan’s isolation and introduced her to like-minded people; remembers how many working class people were able to pursue creative activities while on the dole, doing occasional casual work; the links to the women’s and other social movements

Joan 3

Joan explains the context for the CU’s campaign against the controversial ‘cohabitation rule’; the state ‘snoopers’ who investigated single women claimants looking for signs of their being in a relationship with a man; a protest outside Social Security Minister Barbara Castle’s house

Dave 1

Dave describes activities in Tottenham Claimants Union in the 1980s, which ran an unwaged people’s centre, and their involvement in the major working class struggles of the decade. CUs supported the miner’s strike in ‘84-’85 and the Wapping Printworkers strike in ‘86, coming into conflict with the Communist Party.

Dave 2

CUs tried to address real issues in a reformist way but also called for long-term change. They were spied on by undercover police, considered a ‘subversive movement’ by the state

Dave 3

In the 90s, the CU movement fizzled out as most unemployed workers’ centres closed and the anti-poll tax campaign became the dominant focus of organising.

– To collect and archive the oral history accounts of members involved in the Claimants Union movement in Britain from the late 1960s to the 1990s.

– To edit together and produce a collection of memories of the movement to be produced into an audio piece to go on this page.

– To archive the oral history interviews online and in a suitable archive.

– To collect any visual material relating to the Claimants Union movement to accompany the oral histories collected.

If you have any questions about the project, or any material you would like to add to it, please do contact us

Images below from and own collection.