Will Thorne is not a household name, even in Newham, but he is one of the most influential people to have made his home here. Born into a poor family in Birmingham in 1857, William’s alcoholic father was killed in a brawl when he was 7 years old. He had already started work a year earlier. He visited London twice in his mid-twenties, making most of the journey on foot. On the second occasion he found work as a stoker in the Beckton Gasworks and made his permanent home in Canning Town. Will was keenly aware of the harsh working conditions and poor housing of east London families and turned to politics and industrial action in order to achieve the social change he wanted to see. In 1884 he joined the newly-formed Social Democratic Federation, the only political organisation in Britain that followed the ideas of Karl Marx. He soon became the Secretary of its Canning Town branch and met a number of left-wing intellectuals, including George Bernard Shaw and Marx’s daughter Eleanor. In 1889 he led a strike at the gasworks which succeeded in reducing working shifts from 12 hours a day to 8 with no loss of pay. This remarkable feat was achieved by the creation of the National Union of Gas Workers and General Labourers, with Will as its General Secretary. After various mergers it eventually became the GMB Union (Britain’s General Union) we know today. A few months after the gas workers’ strike, a major strike broke out in the neighbouring London docks where Will had already befriended its leaders – Tom Mann, Ben Tillett and John Burns. Partly inspired by the example of the gas workers, the great 1889 London Dockers Strike was ultimately successful and led to the formation of powerful Dockers’ unions in London and other ports. Will was instrumental in founding the first of the mass member unskilled workers’ unions and the establishment of the so-called ‘New Unionism’, which transformed the workers’ movement. The Social Democratic Federation was one of the organisations which created the Labour Representation Committee in 1900 and, though he left a year later, Will remained to become one of the LRC’s 29 members elected to parliament in 1906 and founded the Labour Party. He sat for West Ham, the constituency which in 1892 had elected Keir Hardie as the first MP to represent the independent labour movement. Unlike some of the leading Labour MPs, Will was an enthusiastic supporter of the war effort in 1914 and joined the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Essex Regiment with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. However, due to his age, he did not go into combat. Will remained in parliament, representing West Ham and then Plaistow until 1945, and only retired at the end of World War II, a few months before his death. His main historic achievement lies in the foundation of the first of the large-scale unskilled workers’ unions which have shaped the trade union movement to this day.