The Lancashire and Cheshire Miners’ Federation (LCMF) was a trade union founded in the aftermath of a bitter, violent seven-week strike in 1881Bitter and violent Lancashire miners' strike of 1881 that lasted for seven weeks, and ended with no resolution. that took place on the Lancashire CoalfieldThe Lancashire and Cheshire Coalfield in North West England was one of the most important British coalfields. Its coal seams were formed from the vegetation of tropical swampy forests in the Carboniferous period more than 300 million years ago. in North West England. The union joined with the National Union of Mineworkers in 1945.
Trade unionism was slow to take root in Lancashire, the coal owners bitterly opposed it. After a long and sometimes violent strike in 1881 the federation was founded to bring together the many local organisations that had been formed in Lancashire.
Colliery owners fended off unions until well into the 19th century and trade unionism was slow to take hold on the Lancashire Coalfield. Wages were poor and employers arbitrarily fined men for minor reasons, disallowed wages on false pretexts and victimised perceived radicals. Some employers used bonds to enforce discipline. Miners had protested about poor wages in 1757 when bread prices rose and some marched from Kersal towards Manchester in protest, but were turned back. When trouble flared, the Home Secretary ordered troops to be ready to quell the unrest. Long strikes were unsustainable as the miners had no organisation or finances to back them up. The first miners’ association was the Brotherly Union Society formed in Pemberton, Wigan in 1794. It was described as a friendly society to avoid prosecution under the Combination ActsActs of Parliament passed by the Tory government of William Pitt the Younger in response to its fear of unrest or revolution among the working classes. They banned workers from combining to form trade unions and prevented them from striking, calling for shorter hours or increased pay. and in the early 19th century there were 21 such societies in central Lancashire.
Strikes in the first quarter of the 19th century generally failed to improve pay and conditions but in 1830 miners formed the Friendly Society of Coal Mining with headquarters in Bolton. The organisation was based on local branches with delegates attending quarterly meetings. The coal owners were not sympathetic and when the men went on strike to assert their right to organise, William HultonWilliam Hulton was the magistrate who ordered the yeomanry to charge into the crowd at the Peterloo Massacre. issued a pamphlet condemning his workforce who he considered had: “wantonly injured me to the full limits of your ability, in my purse, and you have much farther wounded my feelings”.
The Miners’ Association of Great Britain and Ireland was established at a meeting in Wakefield in 1842 and lasted for seven years. It supported the commission headed by Lord Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury and the passing of the Coal Mines Act 1842 which prohibited all females and boys under ten from working underground. The association had 100,000 members and was involved in lobbying parliament and preventing persecution by tyrannical employers. The association, initially strongest in Yorkshire and the North-East, held its first public meeting at Kersal in Salford in 1843 when it was attended by 150 miners. General-secretary, David Swallow, considered the Lancashire miners to be among the worst paid in the country and attempted to address miners in Westhoughton, but the mineowners, including William Hulton, prevented him from holding a meeting. Lord Francis Egerton employed 1300 workers at his Bridgewater pitsCoal mining company on the Lancashire Coalfield with headquarters in Walkden near Manchester., paying them little more than if they were in the workhouseEstablishment where the destitute in England and Wales received board and lodging in return for work.. Opposition from the coal owners did not prevent the association recruiting members and 98 lodges were formed in Lancashire and Cheshire by October 1843. Lancashire miners were poorly paid compared with other coalfields and antagonisms arose between the workers and the union.
The Lancashire and Cheshire Miners’ Federation was founded in 1881 in the aftermath of a bitter seven-week strike that was frequently violent. Thomas Ashton, secretary of the Ashton-under-Lyne area, organised a meeting at the old Manchester Town Hall that led to the merger of several district unions on the Lancashire Coalfield. Not all the districts joined and another meeting was arranged in Wigan. The fledgling union was plagued with rivalries, between areas and the personalities that emerged in its leadership. In the aftermath of the strike, funds were exhausted and the organisation chaotic. Sam Woods who was elected the miners’ agent needed to unite the districts so that the union did not disintegrate. Robert IsherwoodRobert Isherwood (1845–1905) was a miner’s agent, local councillor and the first treasurer of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners’ Federation. , secretary and agent for the Tyldesley Miners’ Association, was its first treasurer.
In 1888, the union called a national conference, which led to the formation of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain the following year.
Sam Woods, was elected as a Lib-Lab MP in the 1892 UK general election. In 1903, the union affiliated to the Labour Representation Committee, by far the most important miners’ union to join at that time. Stephen Walsh was appointed agent of the LCMF in 1901 and, sponsored by the federation, fought and won the Ince seat at the 1906 General Election.
Membership rose rapidly, reaching over 70,000 by 1907. In 1913 Thomas Greenall, president and Thomas Ashton, secretary, laid foundation stones in Bridgeman Place, Bolton for its stone and brick headquarters designed by Bolton architects Bradshaw, Gass & Hope. Pit brow womenFemale surface labourers at British collieries. They worked at the coal screens on the pit brow (pit bank) at the shaft top until the 1960s. Their job was to pick stones and sort the coal after it was hauled to the surface. were admitted as members of the federation after the first World War although work at collieries was considered an unsuitable job for women.
The Lancashire miners were not considered as militant as their counterparts on other coalfields but were involved in disputes both locally and nationally.
After the formation of the National Union of Mineworkers in 1945, the LCMF became its Lancashire area and subsequently merged with the Cumberland Area to form the North West Area.