National League of the Blind and Disabled

The National League of the Blind and Disabled (NLBD), now a section of the Community trade union, was a trade union in the United Kingdom, and is said to be the oldest surviving disabled-led organisation in the world.

Full nameNational League of the Blind and Disabled
Members3,500 (1982)[1]
JournalThe Advocate[1]
AffiliationTUC, Labour
Key peopleJoe Mann (Secretary)
Office location465c Caledonian Road, London N7 9GX
CountryUnited Kingdom

The union was founded, as the National League of the Blind, in 1899,[2] and it affiliated to the Trades Union Congress in 1902. It was initially led by Ben Purse, a piano tuner,[3] while, during the 1900s, its secretary was Thomas Summerbell.[4]

The League organised its first strike in 1912. In 1920, it organised marches to Trafalgar Square from Leeds, Manchester and Newport in support of what became the Blind Persons Act 1920. This action inspired the later Jarrow March.[3] Purse left the union in 1921, forming the National Union of Industrial and Professional Blind, which later became the National Association of Blindworkers, and focused on providing benefits to its members.[3][5] The National League organised a further march in 1936, which met with less success, although it did achieve a further Blind Persons Act in 1938.[3] This tradition of advocacy contributed to many advances in disabled welfare, including the introduction of disability benefits and the creation of the Disability Rights Commission and the 2005 Disability Discrimination Act.

The union voted to rename itself the "National League of the Blind and Disabled" in 1968, and by 1979 had a membership of just under 5,000,[2] and became the 'go to' trades union for disability issues, activism and donations. The nomenclature reflected the philanthropic(?) Victorian emphasis on accommodating blind workers into special workshops, an influence in terminal decline with the workplace closures e.g., by Remploy etc. A new generation of disabled workers, brought up on equalities legislation, was fazed by the old-time moniker (a reactionary alternative in-phrase, 'deaf and disabled,' started gaining currency), and started getting diverted instead to the single-issue Trotskyist media machine DPAC. By 2000, it had 4,000 members, and it merged with the much larger Iron and Steel Trades Confederation to form the basis of the nascent millennial trade union Community, four years before the latter's official launch.


1899: Ben Purse[6]
1899: Peter Miller[6]
1900: William Banham[6]
1904: Joe Gregory[6]
1926: Alec Henderson[6]
1949: Thomas H. Smith[6]
1969: Thomas J. Parker[6]
1979: Mike Barrett[6]
1995: Joe Mann[6]


  1. Marsh, Arthur (1984). Trade Union Handbook (3 ed.). Aldershot: Gower. pp. 146–147. ISBN 978-0566024269.
  2. Arthur Ivor Marsh, Trade Union Handbook, p.132
  3. "The National League of the Blind", Public and Commercial Services Union
  4. Margaret 'Espinasse, Dictionary of Labour Biography, vol.IV, pp.165-166
  5. Arthur Ivor Marsh, Historical Directory of Trade Unions, Vol. 5, p.480
  6. "Appendix A: Past Officers of the National League" (PDF). Retrieved 18 April 2018.
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