If you are reading the Social Review for business or pleasure, you will surely already be aware that it’s Heart Unions Week. Trade unionism and workplace democracy are at the core of all that we do as socialists, and every day Britain’s trade unions provide vital support to workers in pretty much every industry you can think of. They offer advice and solidarity, they campaign and organise and agitate and strike. They provide community, dignity, security and common purpose, and allow us to shape a better world at work and beyond; if you are not in one, you should be. A lot of them also have online shops. This is a ranking of those online shops.

I will be judging the TU shops along a scientifically determined set of criteria:

Variety of merchandise available

Can you just snag a few pens, or is there a wide variety of union goods available to you?

Quality of merchandise available

Are these things you would actually buy, or is it better to wait until they show up in a campaign room somewhere and you end up with the leftovers?

Do they sell jelly beans?

This is surprisingly common.

What am I buying:

Your author’s personal shop highlight.

Could you pull if dressed solely in items from this union shop?

Well, could you?

  1. CWU (Communication Workers’ Union)

We all love the posties. This week, for Heart Unions week, the CWU put out an excellent range of mugs, all funds going to the GMB British Gas Strike Fund, and prompted this author to take a deep dive into the world of trade union shops.

Quality of merchandise available

Yesterday the CWU released a mug with an image of a tweet from its general secretary that reads “I’m bald”, the funds from the sale of which go to a strike fund supporting members of the GMB. As a GMB member, ardent tweeter, alopecia haver, and tea drinker, the CWU hit me where I lived. I am powerless in the hands of the CWU shop. Yes, they have their own curved ice scrapers as well, but after the “I’m bald” mug, they were always assured the top spot in this particular ranking. They earned it.

Variety of Merchandise Available

What, you’re not happy with the “I’m bald” mug? You want more? This is ungrateful behaviour in my opinion, but if you insist, you can have a snood, or a large scale hand sanitizer dispensing stand, or pretty much whatever you want. The CWU shop provides.

Can you buy jelly beans?

Yes

What am I buying?

Duh. https://www.cwu-shop.org/solidaritea

Could you pull if dressed solely in items from this union shop?

Yes. Hard not to.

  1. RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ Union)

The RMT serves transport workers, and is currently campaigning to protect catering jobs on the south western railway, fighting cuts to Nottingham’s bus services, and standing up to keep transport workers safe during the pandemic. While not the largest union on the list, the RMT shop has nonetheless triumphed over many bigger unions to take 2nd place. 

Variety of merchandise available

From t-shirts to hip flasks to portable radios, the RMT shop has it all.

Quality of merchandise available

The RMT shop has both the practical and the edgy- it is a little like looking at that Venn Diagram about spoons being beloved by both pensioners and teenage communists, only you can buy both a tie pin and a t-shirt that says “Don’t buy the Sun” on it. 

Can you buy jelly beans?

No. Admittedly an oversight.

What am I buying?

While tempted by a “Nevermind the Bosses” t shirt and the aforementioned “Don’t buy the Sun”, I will be instead opting for this funky “if provoked, will strike” number. 

https://www.rmt.org.uk/shop/shirts/if-provoked-will-strike-t-shirt-white-with-black-slogan/

Could you pull if dressed solely in items from this union shop?

Yes.

  1. Unite the Union

Unite, representing some 1.4 million workers, is Britain’s largest union. Accordingly, it seems to have Britain’s largest union shop. 

Variety of merchandise available

All of human life is here, in the Unite shop. Lip balm! Rain ponchos! Stress balls, pop up banners, giant flags- they even have a snood. If you so wished, you could live an entire Unite the Union branded life. 

Quality of merchandise available

I have no reason to doubt that Unite’s flags wave and puffer jackets puff with the quality befitting our largest union.

Do they sell jelly beans?

Yes.

What am I buying:

I don’t plan to get married in the near future but when I do it will be in my very own personalised Unite the Union branded Gazebo. 

https://www.unite-shop.org/personalised-3x3m-marquee-gazebo

Could you pull if dressed solely in items from this union shop?

Shopping here, you will be able to say the words everyone wants to hear from their romantic prospects: “Would you like to see my Unite the Union branded gazebo?” 

  1. FBU (Fire Brigades’ Union)

The FBU represents around 44,000 fire fighters and has a cool shop. Is this because it gets to use flame motifs on things without it seeming gratuitous/ flavour town adjacent? Very possibly.

Variety of merchandise available

If I have one complaint about the FBU shop is that it has faintly jock-ish energy. If the FBU shop were a character in an American High School movie it would probably say, “gimme your lunch money”. It has a sportswear range. They are also, for some reason, selling a “women’s handbag hook”, alongside a selection of bronze cast statuettes (12’) of firemen posed in various acts of heroism.

Quality of merchandise available

Everything on the FBU shop looks quite legit and like you might see it in an actual shop.

Do they sell jelly beans?

No. Too cool for that.

What I’m buying:

FBU hip flask! “Pull this out on the picket line and you’ll be the most popular person at the brazier!”, as the website tells us (funds also go to support injured firefighters and their families)

Could you pull if dressed solely in items from this union shop?

I was going to just say “hot stuff, coming through”, and leave it at that but actually I think the answer is more complicated. The appeal of the FBU shop is that it has actually quite nice, cool things; it is mostly devoid of the kind of intensely Labour community halls and picket lines and rattling buckets for donations and pin badges on donkey jackets vibe. A person could look normal and presentable and nice, appear on Masterchef, maybe, wearing clothes sourced solely from the FBU shop. But could they pull? Also probably yes. 

  1. ASLEF (Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen)

Established in 1880, the train drivers’ union ASLEF today has some 20,000 members and is led by Mick Whelan. Its shop can best be described as small, but perfectly formed, largely mirroring the winning formula of the RMT (The ASLEF shop is not currently in operation due to Covid safety measures).

Variety of merchandise available

While not offering as many items as some of the other union shops, ASLEF covers impressive ground. As you might expect it offers a particularly fine array of badges.

Quality of merchandise available

Their t-shirts are cool; their tankards, I assume, are capacious.

Do they sell jelly beans?

No. 

What I’m buying:

This strangely self aware “Young Ones” t shirt:

Could you pull if dressed solely in items from this union shop?

Probably? Depends where you are. And who you are.

  1. NUM (National Union of Mine Workers)

In the 1920s, the NUM had almost a million members; in 2015 it was reported to have an active membership of only 100.  The NUM has played a crucial role throughout the history of the Labour movement, perhaps most famously during the 1984-85 miners’ strike. The NUM union shop sadly reflects the much diminished capacity of the NUM in the 21st century, but what it lacks in variety it more than makes up for with charm. This website does not have online payment; you have to send them some money, or a cheque, in the post.

Variety of merchandise available

You like badges and commemorative plates? They’ve got those! Also some books about the history of the union, including the somewhat defensively titled “Nottingham Miners Do Strike!”

Quality of merchandise available

Look the NUM shop in the eye as it asks you to send “cheques payable to NUM” in the post and say that their “The Flame Still Burns” mug is not worth every penny of the 6. 42 they are charging.

Do they sell jelly beans?

No. Obviously not. 

What I am buying:

Coal not dole badge, of course. This shop does not have individual links.

Could you pull if dressed solely in items from this union shop?

If your intended has seen the 2014 film “Pride”: 100%. If not, it’s marginal.

 

  1. GMB (General, Municipal and Boilermakers’ Union) 

The GMB is one of the UK’s largest unions, representing workers across a wide variety of sectors. It is also the union that I, your esteemed author, am a proud member of. I am active in my branch and the GMB have supported me in workplace disputes. As such, it greatly pains me to announce that the GMB is sadly not what it could be when it comes to merchandise. Please do not tell my reps. 

Variety of merchandise available

The GMB offers a fairly perfunctory selection of note books, pens, key chains and the like. Its USP as a union shop seems to be outerwear, with an unusually broad selection of coats, fleeces, gloves, hats and hi vis vests. They are also currently having a sale on ties. 

Quality of merchandise available

Some very ugly shirts aside, the GMB fleeces and puffer jackets do look quite toasty. I was also told by my friend that the GMB stress ball he got at conference a few years back is “very nice”.

Do they sell jelly beans?

Yes.

What am I buying:

https://www.gmb-shop.org.uk/gmb-wool-hat

I’m keeping it simple with a nice woollen beanie. 

Could you pull if dressed solely in items from this union shop?

Only at a Lisa Nandy for leader event.

  1. Unison

With a newly elected General Secretary, Christina McAnea, Unison represents around 1.4 million members across public services. It also has a shop.

Variety of merchandise available

Unison is a big union, and so its shop isn’t tiny; you can get most things you’ll find on the other union shops here. There is one thing that the Unison shop is very, very keen on, though: small enamel badges that announce different branch positions. You can get chairperson and treasurer and branch secretary and equalities officer. They absolutely love small enamel badges that tell you people’s position in the branch. They have not brought that passion to any other items in the shop, and it shows.

Quality of merchandise available

Small enamel badges that tell you people’s positions in the branch 10/10

Everything else 4/10

Someone help me budget this my public sector union is dying

Do they sell jelly beans?

Yes.

What am I buying:

There is something very “graphic design is my passion” about this shirt that says “Unison women vs tory boys (no contest)”.  Look at all the different fonts and the unnecessary brackets. Look at the v-neck and the strange two tone colouring. I like it more as a shitpost than an item of clothing, but I still like it.

Could you pull if dressed solely in items from this union shop?

On a really, really good and maybe slightly foggy day. 

  1. TUC (Trades Union Congress)

A union of unions, the TUC brings together 5.5 million working people across 48 unions, many of which have better shops than the TUC.

Variety of merchandise available

The TUC shop appears to mostly sell TUC reports, which it mostly seems to give away for free. This is undeniably commendable, but not much use for those in search of trade union related retail therapy. They do have a nice range of greeting cards, some t-shirts, and a possibly mis-judged “Tolpuddle Teddy Bear”.

Quality of merchandise available

I’m sure their workplace reports are of very high quality, but their t-shirts look a bit naff.

Do they sell jelly beans?

No.

What am I buying:

A nice suffragette greeting card, for only 2.50

https://www.tuc.org.uk/publications/suffragette-greetings-card-ethel-smyth

Could you pull if dressed solely in items from this union shop?

I am sorry. It’s a no.

  1. NEU (National Education Union)

The NEU represents more than half a million teachers and school support staff. They do great work. Their shop is crap. They probably have more important things to worry about. That’s fair.

Variety of merchandise available

The NEU has gone hard on reusable cups, hard on black polo shirts, and absolutely nothing else. As a small saving grace, however, I will note that they are I think the only union I’ve surveyed who are selling a thermometer, and that as our planet becomes increasingly uninhabitable and Britain experiences hotter and hotter summers and temperatures at work become an increasingly (forgive me) hot button issue, this is likely a prescient move.

Quality of merchandise available

I have an NEU biro somewhere. It works. 

Do they sell jelly beans?

No. 6 different sizes of identical black shirts, though. 

What am I buying:

They have an NEU table cloth. It’s 57 pounds. If I bought it as a bit I would probably regret it. Their website isn’t very good so they don’t have individual links.

Could you pull if dressed solely in items from this union shop?

No. There is something profoundly unsexy about the NEU shop. The NEU shop looks like the detritus at the bottom of your school bag at the end of term. If it could, the NEU shop would have acne. Maybe I’m projecting. Whatever. You’re not getting laid in the NEU polo shirt. It just isn’t happening.

  1. WGGB (Writers’ Guild of Great Britain) 

We conclude with a dishonourable mention for the very wobegone Writer’s Guild shop. Chaired by none other than Sandi Toksvig and representing professional writers across a variety of industries since 1959, I am certain that the WGGB does wonderful work for its members. Unfortunately it is not serving the consumer with the same commitment. 

Variety of merchandise available

So on its website, which appears to be out of date, the guild is showing off a number of mugs that say “I will finish this draft” and “all I need is caffeine and inspiration”, along with some t-shirts that say “writer”. However, if you click through to the online shop (as I am always saying: the Social Review does real investigative work), they appear to only offer a range of quite ugly t-shirts for actual sale.

Quality of merchandise available

Here’s the thing- not only are the t-shirts bland looking and ugly (they are just very normal t-shirts, with the WGGB logo on them- only it appears to have been dropped on them kind of at random, like clip art? Not necessarily as a crest like you’d expect, but kind of, down on your side for some reason, like where you’d be stabbed if you were in a Shakespearean play, only marked with the WGGB logo) they are very expensive? You can get some real bargains in these TU shops, but you are going to be forking out the big bucks for your WGGB strip.

Do they sell jelly beans?

No.

What am I buying:

I am not going to spend 20 pounds on this wonky t-shirt or anything else in the WGGB shop

https://shop.spreadshirt.co.uk/WritersGuildofGreatBritain/wggb+logo+cmyk+3-A5d663158e44742618e28663c?productType=812&sellable=Y54yDJwJYrUrbkgajAgm-812%3A9c39e05c-7&appearance=2

Could you pull if dressed solely in items from this union shop?

No. Not happening.