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Will Thorne.

William James Thorne CBE (1857 – 2 January 1946), known as Will Thorne, was a British trade unionist, activist and one of the first Labour Members of Parliament.




Early years

Will Thorne was born in Hockley, Birmingham, on 8 October 1857. His father and relatives worked as brickmakers. Thorne's father died in a fight when Thorne was seven. Thorne began work at the age of six, turning a wheel for a rope and twine spinner, working from six in the morning to six at night, with half an hour for breakfast and an hour for dinner. Thorne recalls that when the spinner wanted to reduce his wages from 2 shillings and 6 pence to 2 shillings, he "went on strike" and never returned to the job. [1]

The family was on poor relief. Thorne's mother and three sisters worked all hours sewing hooks and eyes. "It was here I had intimate experience with sweated labour", he comments without irony. Thorne took a job with his uncle at a brick and tile works, and later, at another brickworks further away. At the age of nine Thorne recalls "my mother got me up at four o'clock every morning to give me my breakfast". It was a four mile walk to work.

I had to give up this job finally because my mother said that the work was too hard and the distance too long for me to walk every morning and night.

I remember her telling me that the 8 s[hillings] a week would be missed; some one would have to go short. But it was no use being slowly killed by such work as I was doing, and it was making me hump backed. It was not until I had been away from the work for several weeks that I was able to straighten myself out again.

My mother's rebellion against the way I was being worked is the rebellion of many mothers. It is the rebellion that I feel, and will continue to carry on.

— Will Thorne, My Life's Battles, p19
Something "substantial"
Caricature of Will Thorne, in Punch magazine, 3 November 1920, celebrating an interjection made by Thorne during a debate on the Emergency Powers Bill.

Political career

Thorne served for many years on West Ham Town Council and was Mayor 1917–18.

In 1882, Thorne moved to London and found work at a gasworks. Thorne joined the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) and became branch secretary. Previously barely literate, Thorne improved his reading skills with the assistance of Karl Marx's daughter, Eleanor Marx.

In 1889, he helped to found a national gasworkers' union, one of the prominent New Unions and became its general secretary. He retained this position in the union and its successors, which became the GMB in 1924, up to 1934. Thorne also helped to organise the London Dock Strike in 1889.

He contested several elections as a Labour candidate before finally winning a seat representing West Ham South at the 1906 general election. He remained with SDF as it became the British Socialist Party, but he supported Britain's involvement in World War I, and as a result joined the National Socialist Party.[2]

Thorne visited the Soviet Union shortly after the Russian Revolution of 1917.

He won the seat of Plaistow in 1918 and retained it until retiring at the 1945 general election, aged 87 — at the time the oldest sitting member. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1930.


  1. ^ Thorne, Will, My Life's Battles, p14ff
  2. ^ This organisation should not be confused with the German NSDAP, which was created three years after the British NSP.

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Edward Banes
Member of Parliament for West Ham South
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Plaistow
Succeeded by
Elwyn Jones
Political offices
Preceded by
New position
General Secretary of the National Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers
Succeeded by
Position abolished
Preceded by
William Mullin
President of the Trades Union Congress
Succeeded by
W. J. Davis
Preceded by
New position
General Secretary of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers
Succeeded by
Charles Dukes
Preceded by
Frederick Hall?
Oldest sitting member
(not Father of the House)

Succeeded by
Murdo Macdonald


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