I would like, if I may, to add a footnote to the review
by Alan Woods of "Strike: When Britain went to war". My feelings watching the
programme went from anger to depression and back to anger. But as we used to say
quite often during those days, "Don’t get angry, get even". The review hits the
nail right on the head, the programme was made because it looks more certain
every day that we are going to get even quite soon. And because as Alan Woods
says the representatives of big business want to convince young workers that
struggle is hopeless.
At the time of the miners strike of 1984 I was a member of
the Fleet Street branch of the AEEU and Chairman of the Times Newspapers
engineers chapel. Our branch and chapel (workplace organisation) actively
supported the miners during their strike. Many workers on the national press
understood that the miners were fighting a battle on our behalf too. Some of my
members were conned by the media picture of the miners as the aggressor. It is
interesting that one of the Welsh miners on the programme referred to older
miners who did not run from the police onslaught. They did not believe that the
police would attack them with such venom. Many of my chapel members thought this
way too. The first time that we were attacked at Wapping a good number of the
older men stood their ground saying, "They won’t attack us if we are peaceful".
Often followed by saying to an officer, "Hold on there, you can’t do that to me."
As they were shoved, bowled over or whacked by a uniformed thug.
The thing about the printers was that they were a
conservative group of people. They had relatively high pay and better working
conditions than most workers did. They were not about to make a revolution but
they knew very well that their position depended completely on their trade union
and particularly chapel organisation. The chapel leaders and most of the members
recognised that a defeat of the miners would open up a general assault by the
Thatcher regime on all organised workers. When the chapel at The Sun refused to
carry the fabricated ‘Hitler salute’ picture of Arthur Scargill, the battle
lines were drawn. ‘Those bastards are next’, was the cry of the Thatcherites.
What about that porn merchant Kelvin McKenzie trying to portray a printer on the
programme! He only played himself in his attempt to depict a chapel official.
There were some people like that in Fleet Street but they were the ones who
scabbed and became managers after our defeat.
The lie told by McKenzie and others of his ilk was that Fleet
Street workers would not accept new technology. New technology was not the issue
but how that new technology would be used. It was estimated in the eighties that
with new technology everything printed in Britain could be produced with less
than half the labour. So which way would it go? Either a 20 hour week or half
the workforce on the dole! It was clear which way the press barons would go. The
last thing the bosses at News International wanted was an agreement with the
chapels. They wanted to end forever their having to reach agreements. They
wanted to dictate, or as it is put by the mealy-mouthed, have ‘management’s
right to manage’. A story, which may be apocryphal, went the rounds. One of
Murdoch’s managers had reached an agreement with a small chapel. It seems that
this chapel had rolled over and played dead to get a deal. The manager went to
his bosses and said, ‘I’ve got a deal’. The boss said, ‘Well, you had better go
and fuck it up then’. The offending manager, a former chapel official, was later
reported to have, ‘Waved McKenzie in the air in a Wapping office!!
Talks had taken place at The Sun and the News of the World
about a move from Fleet Street to the new plant in Wapping. The engineers chapel
had been involved in planning the move. They had produced a book detailing all
of the equipment and its maintenance requirements. They fully expected to go to
Wapping. No talks had taken place with chapels at The Times and Sunday Times.
Completely out of the blue the first paper to be printed in Wapping was a
supplement to The Sunday Times. At this time I was Father of the Chapel for the
Times Newspapers engineers. I was sent to our production manager to ask for
talks. He refused. We went on strike. Our strike too, like the miners, was a
defensive struggle. Like them we had the full force of the state thrown against
us. Like them in spite of a heroic struggle we were beaten. Our defeat led to
the general collapse of union organisation in Fleet Street. After this not only
the Tory Daily Telegraph but also the supposedly liberal Observer and Guardian,
began a campaign of bullying against their workers. This is to say nothing of
the regime at the Labour-supporting Mirror, both with and without pension thief
Engineers were enraged by the role of the EEPTU in recruiting
and training scab labour for Wapping. They felt angry at the almost total lack
of support from their own AEEU. They were appalled by the weakness of someone
like SOGAT leader Brenda Dean. She had the nerve on the programme to pour scorn
on a fighter like Scargill. They were enraged by the outright betrayal of their
leaders in joining what was seen as the organisation largely to blame for the
Wapping strike. Many of our best fighters left the union. What is happening to
the AEEU/EEPTU/AMICUS now shows that even the most apparently corrupt and
useless workers’ organisations can be renewed. Where else can we go? Should we
start all over again building new unions? Just to ask the question shows what
nonsense that would be. The men and women now rebuilding AMICUS are not weighed
down by past defeats but are seeking to deal with the challenges of today.
After the 1987 defeat most of my brothers and sisters looked
to a Labour victory as the way ahead. A Labour Government would get rid of the
anti-union Tory laws. Often fellow workers would scold me for banging on about
the Blairites. ‘We must get rid of the Tories.’ Even after the disappointments
of the first term they were saying that we should hang on and hope for the best.
Now with the failure to get rid of anti-union laws, the
support for privatisation, the war, the outrageous treatment of fire fighters
and post workers, things are beginning to change. Once again new layers of
workers are turning to their unions. One lesson at least they can learn from the
miners and the printers. Use your unions to regain your Labour Party. Stop the
nonsense of MP’s you support backing policies, like PFI, which your union
opposes. Running off and forming new parties is just as barmy as trying to set
up new unions. The tiny clique at present controlling our Party will not be hard