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Samuel Jewel Elston (c1855-1929)

Bringing union power to the men of the metal trades

Samuel Jewel ElstonSam Elston was born in London, the son of a riveter, and was apprenticed to a blacksmith there. After ten years in South Africa he settled in Caversham in 1899. He soon assumed a leading role in the Dunedin branch of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. These were difficult times for the men of the metal trades and Elston had long periods of unemployment, moving between the Otago gold dredges, Port Chalmers and Auckland in search of work. He returned to Dunedin in 1905. In his travels he had become widely known to other branches of the union and was highly regarded.

In 1909 he was appointed to be professional organiser for the union in New Zealand and part of Australia. From his base in Caversham he travelled extensively and dramatically increased the union's membership. He brought together and amalgamated unions in the tinsmithing, sheetmetal, rangemaking, motor, cycle and brass finishing trades. Dunedin's membership climbed from 74 to 555, nationally the increase was from 577 to 3500. He also succeeded in winning administrative autonomy for the union from its headquarters in London and Sydney. The Amalgamated Society of Engineers developed from an exclusive craft society to a modern industrial union, representing all the men of the metal trades.

(Photograph Doreen Tyree)

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