By 1800 over thirty cotton towns in Lancashire, Cheshire and Derbyshire had local spinners' friendly societies or trade clubs. The first documented society was at Stockport in 1785. Other important spinning organizations existed in Preston (1795), Manchester (1795) and Oldham (1797). These societies became illegal under the terms of the 1799 and 1800 Combination Acts. Sometimes societies were reformed during industrial disputes such as the spinners' strike in Manchester in 1810.
After the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824 and 1825, spinners had more freedom to form associations of workers. In 1828 John Doherty became leader of the Manchester Spinners' Union. The following year textile factory owners began imposing wage reductions on their workers. In an attempt to persuade the employers to change their minds, members of the union went on strike. The strike lasted for six months but in October the spinners, facing starvation, were forced to accept the lower wages being offered by the factory owners.
John Doherty realised that it was very difficult for local unions to win industrial disputes so he organised a meeting of spinners from all over Britain. The result of the meeting was the formation of the Grand General Union of Operative Spinners of the United Kingdom. Doherty's union only lasted two years and it was not until 1845 that a similar organisation was formed. This time it was a group of spinners in Bolton who created the Association of Operative Cotton Spinners. Despite its name, few people joined from outside that part of Lancashire.
Other attempts at forming a national union took place in Preston in 1852 with the Friendly Association of Hand Mule Spinners. This time membership included workers from Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire and Derbyshire. However, it was not until 1870 with the establishment of the Amalgamated Association of Operative Cotton Spinners that the trade had a real national union.