Guest post by Mary Adossides, Chair Brent Trades Council
On 15 October Brent Trades Council will be celebrating the centenary of the Willesden Trades and Labour Hall’s constitution. The Trades Hall has played a crucial role in the political, economic and social history of Willesden and then Brent since the early 20th century.
The front of the Willesden Trades and Labour Hall and Apollo Club
In her detailed article in the Willesden Local History Society Journal Winter/ Spring 22 edition, Christine Coates, documents this icon of labour movement history (WLHS website - in case anyone is interested https://willesden-local-history.co.uk/)
The growth of the industrial estates in Park Royal and Cricklewood, saw the growth of trade unions and political organisations and the push to have a venue for meetings meant the Trades and Labour Hall. The Willesden Trades and Labour Hall Society was set up 1922 and bought the Hall in 1924. Through the 20s and 30s, the Hall was mainly used for union and LP meetings with popular speakers such as Sylvia Pankhurst who founded the Willesden Branch of the Communist Workers’ Movement there in 1924.
During the 1926 General Strike, the Hall became a strike HQ. A local Council of Action was formed by the Willesden Labour Party with all the local TU branches. A strike bulletin was published and mass meetings were held on local Pound Green with football matches to fill the time between activity. Through the 1920s and 30s, support for unemployed and hunger marchers was organised from the Hall and the National Archives show it was under frequent police surveillance during this period.
After WW2, the Trades Hall continued to be an important hub for union and political campaigns. Nelson Mandela was invited to speak but the meeting had to be moved because of numbers. Willesden and Wembley joined to form the London Borough of Brent in 1965 and it became the home for the merged Brent Trades Council.
In 1969 an attempt was made to solve financial difficulties of the building with a long-term lease of the ground floor hall to the Apollo Club, a venue for reggae nights and West Indian music. It was a great success (Bob Marley played there). The rent was expected to pay the running cost of the building but did not resolve the hall’s financial difficulties.
Tom Durkin, President of Brent Trades Council, speaking to the Grunwick Women strikers during their 2 year strike 1976-1978
From 1976-1978 the rest of the building was used as a base for the Grunwick strikers struggling against workplace exploitation. At that time the Trades Council was probably at its strongest with 21,000 members and 130 delegates affiliated in 74 branches. Thousands joined the mass picket in Chapter Road, outside Dollis Hill in a week in action in June 1977 in solidarity with the Grunwick strikers and marched through Willesden led by Arthur Scargill supported by miners, dockers, printers, post office workers.
By the 1980s industrial decline led to a reduction in trade union activity. Unfortunately without income the building could not be properly maintained. The Hall gradually fell into disrepair but continued to be used by the Apollo Club, the Labour Party, Brent TUC and a few local groups until in late 2019.Its use had to be paused at the start of the pandemic.
The Society itself revived in 2019 as an unincorporated group.Any solution which involves retaining the building will involve further serious sums of money and are being considered by the Willesden Trades and Labour Hall Society.
On 15th October from 7pm Brent Trades Council is celebrating its iconic hall :
Join our event 100 years of Working Class History in Brent at the Brent Black Music Coop (BBMC) from 7pm, 383 High Road, NW10 2JR, nearest tube Dollis Hill (Jubilee Line). Dawn Butler MP will launch the event, Chris Coates will speak about the history of the building, others will speak about the trade union movement and the Grunwick strike. There will be film, poetry and music. The all female Akabu reggae band will entertain us during the second part of the evening. Tickets available on Eventbrite:
Brent Trades Council