Bryn RobertsArthur Brinley Roberts (1897-1964), trade unionist, was born on 07 April 1897 at 4 Penybont Road, Abertillery, Monmouthshire, the fifth of eight children born to William Roberts (c.1863-1906), a stationery colliery engine driver, and his wife, Mary Ann Blacker. After the death of William Roberts the family endured considerable hardship. Angry at the harsh treatment meted out by the Bedwellty board of guardians, the Roberts family became staunch supporters of the Independent Labour Party. Though Bryn Roberts left Abertillery elementary school at the age of thirteen to work in the Penybont pit, he continued his education by attending night classes.
Roberts was a conscientious objector during the First World War. He was incarcerated, escaped from a prison in Northumberland, and was eventually recaptured. Upon his release in 1918 he worked in the Cwmtillery colliery before winning scholarships to Ruskin College, Oxford, and the Central Labour College in London.. He returned to Wales in 1921, and in the following year he was elected as a checkweigher for the Mardy pit. He married Violet Mary Sheenan in October 1922. Four years later he was elected as the miners' agent for the Rhymney valley district in Monmouthshire and also to Rhymney council, where he led a campaign against the means test. In 1929 he finished second to Aneurin Bevan in the contest to find a Labour candidate for the Ebbw Vale constituency. He was industrious both as a councillor and a miners' union leader: in 1932 he chaired the council and, in addition, dealt with the cases of over 400 injured miners.
in 1934 Roberts became general secretary of the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE), which at the time had 13,000 members. The union was in debt and could only afford to employ a back-room staff of four. His response was to launch an ambitious expansion plan. The timing was propitious: after years of decline, union membership had begun to rise. He prosecuted the plan with shrewd determination. NUPE concentrated its recruitment policy in rural areas, which the general unions had mostly ignored. Within two years the membership of NUPE had risen by 80 per cent and the union's income had doubled. The membership drive did not escape controversy, however, as NUPE organizers were not averse to recruiting members of other unions.
In 1938 Roberts returned from a visit to the Soviet Union, convinced that there was genuine popular support for the regime. Three years later, his campaign to replace the system of local bargaining for county council workers bore fruit, and national bargaining structures for the other NUPE workers followed soon afterwards. In the same year, 1941, the National Union of General and Municipal Workers, alarmed at NUPE's expansion, offered Roberts a lucrative position, which he declined. In 1943 his advocacy helped persuade the TUC to begin to prepare detailed plans for the nationalization of the transport and fuel industries.
Though the war had interrupted the NUPE expansion plan, the union made progress in other areas. Roberts and his colleagues, for instance, had succeeded in doubling the pre-war wages of roadmen by 1945. In 1952 he urged the TUC to draw up a plan for further nationalization. His belief that private enterprise was discredited and should be replaced by a planned economy was unwavering. His views on the labour movement were iconoclastic and equally uncompromising: nationalization and industrial democracy were both hindered by unnecessary competition between unions. The union movement should be fundamentally restructured along industrial lines with one union representing each group of workers. His opinions won him few friends among his fellow union leaders and, despite numerous attempts; he never succeeded in being elected to the TUC general council. Furthermore, his antagonism towards the general unions continued towards the comparative isolation of NUPE within both the TUC and the Labour Party.
By 1959 NUPE comprised nearly 200,000 members and employed over fifty full time staff at its headquarters. Two years later Roberts published The Price of TUC Leadership, in which he claimed that TUC conservatism had cost the Labour Party victory in the 1959 election.. Shortly afterwards he suffered a severe stroke. He returned to work briefly in the autumn of 1961 but retired in July 1962. An outstanding organizer, a powerful orator, and skilled polemicist, whose ability was attested to by the phenomenal growth of the union he led and dominated, he was not a man of false modesty. His outspoken radicalism denied him the influence within the union movement that his talents deserved. He died after a long illness at his home, White Cottage, 10 Scotts Lane, Shortlands, Kent, on 26 August 1964, and was survived by his wife, a son and two daughters.