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Bank Forms A Company Union

{BANK OFFICERS GUILD officials believe that the newly formed Martins Bank Staff association is intended to thwart the Guild’s struggle for recognition. Mr T G Edwards, general secretary of the Guild, told the “Daily Herald” yesterday that he believed this was the first of a series of similar bodies which the banks would set up.  Heads of departments at Martins has been asked to encourage their staff to join. One of the criticisms of the “company unions” has been that they are non-contributory.  The new Martins association announces a subscription of 5s. a year for men and 2s. 6d. for women. A circular to the staff stated that the new association would “continue the Sick and accident fund”.  This fund, Mr Edwards added, was one which members of the staff could voluntarily join.  The circular seemed to imply that the membership of the fund and of the new staff association would in future have to go together.  He had therefore written to the secretary of the Bank asking him to clarify the position.  Early this month the Guild reported to the minister of Labour that it was in dispute with the banks as they had refused to negotiate with it on the question of salary increases to meet the higher cost of living.  The Minister, therefore, has to decide whether the case is one which should be referred to the National Arbitration Tribunal for settlement}.

Daily Herald 22 August 1940

Image © Trinity Mirror Image created courtesy of the British Library Board.

Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive

It’s an early start for Martins Bank Staff Association…

The 1960s was a time of great change in the banking industry.  The decade began with computer experiments, but ended without too much progress being made in the automation of bank accounts.  It may then come as a surprise, that Martins Bank Staff Association was formed as early as 1940, when a group of employees were encouraged by the bank to get together in order to represent the interests of the wider staff of the Bank to the management.  The article above, from the Daily Herald, asks if the motive behind such a move was actually to prevent staff joining an external trade union body - the Bank Officers’ Guild.  The Guild had been experiencing problems trying to negotiate fairer pay for the staff of the Banks, and with the advent of the Staff Association it worried that the rights of bank workers might be eroded further.

One advantage for Martins might have been that competition between the different banks would not involve the vulgarity of having to harmonise pay across the industry.  The reason given by Martins for the formation of the Staff Association, was to have a meaningful body to carry forward the already established Staff sickness and accident fund, to which staff paid a small subscription each year in return for healthcare benefits - the National health service does not come into being until 1946, so an employee sickness fund that could pay doctors’ and hospital bills made perfect sense.  The fund was still in operation up to the merger with Barclays in 1969. At that point, it offered cover from BUPA, which today still provides private workplace sickness cover In any case, staff associations were here to stay, and on the whole popular with their members.

Industrial unrest in Britain became strong in the early to mid-1960s, and lasted until the late 1980s. In the 1950s and 60s, armed raids on banks grew in number, and mental health care for staff affected by these raids was non-existent.  For many years, the idea of a trade union for bank workers was frowned upon and actively suppressed by some of the banks. Martins prided itself on being a “family”, especially as new branches were being opened all over England, the staff who worked in them being referred to – rather bucolically – as “pioneers”.  The British government had made it known that banks should be “ready” for decimalisation in 1971, and that did not simply mean being able to count in pounds and pence instead of pounds SHILLINGS and pence.  At this time, pay in banking is still quite low and despite male and female salary scales being harmonised for the first five or so years of a banking career, inequality of the sexes meant a male-led banking industry, which in many respects lasted even into the early 1990s. 

NUBE - The National Union of Bank Employees…

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In 1946 the Bank Officers’ Guild merged with the Scottish Bankers’ Association, to become the National Union of Bank Employees – NUBE.   When Martins and Barclays merged, the choice of staff representative body was either Barclays Staff Association or NUBE.  This booklet, offering NUBE members a selection of discounts from an extremely wide range of shops and services, was issued to members in 1967.  From the 1950s to the 1980s, it was common amongst a variety of companies to provide special offers and discounted products to those who worked in banking and finance, because it was felt that these employees had the potential to “do well for themselves” and that future business may well be secured for a company offering what we might today refer to as a “freebie”.

NUBE’s “Discount Shopping Scheme” was aimed at members of the staff who perhaps were NOT quite so “well to do”, and several offers gave discounts on everyday products in local shops. Sadly, this is the only item in our Archive that represents the National Union of Bank Employees, so we would love to hear from Martins Staff who bucked the trend of what was the very well subscribed and supported  Staff Association to instead join an actual trade union in the 1960s.  Please do get in touch with us at the usual address –  By the late 1970s, the question “are you going to join the union, or ‘just’ the staff association” was a familiar one to new Barclays staff members, with NUBE colleagues keen to point out that they felt it pointless to be “on the side of the Bank” – which is how they saw a staff association.  The staff of some banks had no choice – the staff of the Trustee Savings Bank were made either to join NUBE, or make a monthly contribution of the union fees to a charity…

Membership of Martins Bank Staff Association...

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In the 1960s, Martins Bank Staff Association was flying high.  Its general secretary, W “Eddie” Gale went on to be at the helm of Barclays Staff Association, and our staff database includes a special section for those staff who were seconded from their usual work to serve the Staff Association.  An annual membership card is issued, which is personally signed by the General Secretary, these being the days of cardboard, minimal printing, and fountain pen ink!  This piece of cardboard is, nevertheless a serious one, reminding staff as it does that as members of the Association, they are entitled to all rights and privileges of the Association for the year beginning 1st March.  Most of the rights and privileges referred to are actually the terms of employment for the member of staff concerned, and these are laid out in the Staff Association publication: “INSIDE INFORMATION”.


·         Mr W E Gale, known as Eddie, joined Martins Bank in 1961 at Eastham in the southernmost area of Merseyside.

·         The following year he transferred to Hoole.

·         Within his first year in the Bank, he was awarded “Best all round student in the Institute of Bankers Examinations” by Birkenhead Technical College. 

·         In October 1964 Mr and Mrs Gale had a daughter.

·         In 1965 Eddie transferred to Martins Bank’s Head Office in Liverpool, and was seconded to Martins Bank Staff Association,

becoming General Secretary by 1967.

·         In 1966 he completed the Institute of Bankers’ examinations.

·         In August 1967 Mr and Mrs Gale had their second daughter.

·         After the Merger with Barclays in 1969, Eddie remained with the newly combined Barclays Staff Association as its General Secretary.


Shhh! Here is some “Inside” Information...

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This booklet is a strange hybrid – a kind of information manual and a staff rule book, giving details not only of what Martins Bank expected of its employees, but also what staff could look forward to in respect of various schemes available to staff, along with details of salaries, overtime payments, travel expenses, cheap loan and house purchase schemes. Every so often full page photographs of branches appear, with short captions that remind staff how modern, or new, or exciting their employer is!  At first glance “INSIDE INFORMATION” appears to have served as an introduction to the Bank AND its Staff Association, but it is soon clear that the former is definitely in charge of the latter! 

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The first few pages spell out an employee’s “service agreement with the bank” a long and weighty piece which spells out in no uncertain terms all the things an employee must and must not do.  What we must not do here is make judgement about which organisation was “better” than the other.  Both set out in earnest to represent their members – one from inside the company, the other from the outside.  Perhaps realising the competition from NUBE, the Staff Association does try harder to be seen to be more like its independent counterpart, especially as we reach the time of the merger with Barclays, and it produces a very useful guide to help its members compare terms of service and staff benefits across the two banks   A series of name changes leads to “Barclays Group Staff Union”, and mergers with the staff associations of other banks including Lloyds and the National Westminster Bank. In a move which somewhat perversely copied the mergers and acquisitions of “big business” bank workers, shop workers, and those who worked for similar trades found their unions and staff associations alike eventually rolled into the all-powerful “UNISON”, which today with more than a million members is just about the largest union in UK voluntary and community sectors.