Born in Wigan, Austin joined the Journeymen Steam Engine and Machine Makers' Friendly Society in 1847. He soon moved to Bury and helped bring about the merger which formed the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE) in 1851. In 1863, he was appointed as the Manchester Vacant Bookkeeper for the society, and became known for his honesty and devotion to duty in the post.
By 1882, Austin was the chairman of the Manchester and Salford Trades Council and, in the post, was centrally involved in organising that year's Trades Union Congress (TUC). He was chosen unanimously as President of the TUC that year.
In 1886, Austin was elected as general secretary of the ASE, defeating John Anderson by 9,956 votes to 9,100. He took up office the following year, and served in the post until his death in 1891.
- Amalgamated Society of Engineers, Amalgamated Society of Engineers: Jubilee Souvenir 1901, p.78
- James B. Jeffreys, The story of the engineers, 1800-1945, p.111
- Trades Union Congress, Report of the 1882 Annual Trades Union Congress, p.4
- V. L. Allen, Power in Trade Unions: A Study of Their Organization in Great Britain, p.281
|Trade union offices|
| President of the Trades Union Congress
| General Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers
1886 – 1891
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