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The interest of the trade unions in the educational opportunities provided by the WEA built up
steadily in the early years and many trade union branches became affiliated to WEA branches.
To strengthen and give cohesion to this educational work, the Workers' Educational Trade Union
Committee (known as the WETUC) was formed in 1919. An educational service was designed
on the broad framework of the WEA's branch and district programmes but with special
relevance to trade unionists.
The Iron and Steel Trades' Confederation under the leadership of Arthur Pugh (later Sir Arthur)
played an important part in the formation of the Committee and some 42 other unions, including
the Transport and General Workers' Union, the Union of Shop. Distributive and Allied Workers
and the General and Municipal Workers' Union, affiliated and were able to take advantage of the
WEA's considerable organisational experience and professional teaching resources. The
WETUC occupied an important place in the organisation of trade union education until 1964
when the TUC's reorganised education scheme came into effect.
The early pioneers of the WEA recognised immediately that a vital part of any struggle to
improve the educational chances of the working people was to campaign for better state
education for the young. Such campaigns, on a national scale, have played an important part in
influencing the nation's planning in public education. In 1916, a committee of the WEA was
formed to draft an educational programme; it recommended the school-leaving age first to 15
and then to 16. and the institution of compulsory part-time education up to 18. An active
campaign for the reforms was launched throughout the country, conference and public meetings
held and press publicity cultivated. In 1917, in the Central Hall Westminster, at a national
conference of workers' educational organisations, the WEA programme for public education was
accepted. The Education Act of 1918 raised the school-leaving age to 15 and the WEA
went on campaigning. In 1922, when Government's so-called "Geddes' axe" was about to cut
educational expenditure, the WEA's campaign culminated in a national demonstration of protest
in which the universities, education authorities and the Labour movement combined their
strength and succeeded in warding off the threat.
In 1942 the WEA joined with the Co-operative Union, the Trades Union Congress and the
National Union of Teachers to form a Council for Educational Advance which eventually
became one of the spearheads of the campaign of conferences, public meetings, deputations and
publications which preceded the 1944 Education Act, urging a just and adequate education
system. With the passing of the Act, free secondary education for all and many other reforms for
which the WEA had been campaigning for nearly thirty years became a reality.
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