……The industrial 1970’s, back when I was but a callow youth. Not a mere stripling, but a fairly average working stiff.
I come from North of Watford gap, amongst other places. And having read the little narrative over at Anna Raccoons about the Miners vs Police fixture back in 1984 being too far back to prosecute wrongdoers, thought I’d put down in a blog post what I can recall from those times.
Here’s some I-was-really-there information. I began my working life on the factory floor as an Engineering apprentice in the mid / late 70’s. We weren’t cheering the miners on. Far from it. Our attitude was more “Oh fkucing hell. Not another bloody strike.” We saw the pointless battles between Management ‘them’ and Union ‘us’, the petty industrial sabotages that along with near continuous industrial action eventually killed whole factories and the communities that depended upon them. We didn’t much care for the notoriously less-than-competent British Management and their cheese-paring old-school-tie ways, but people like Scargill and Red Robbo were even worse.
One of my uncles, a mining explosives specialist by trade and Mine Union rep turned in his union badge and went Tory back in ’79 / 80. He’d seen the writing on the wall and ended up serving as a Conservative District Councillor after years of being a lifelong Socialist. My Uncle Jack thought Scargill and his fellow travellers were idiots for repeatedly calling political strikes. So he got out ahead of the game.
Many of us at the time were pissed off with nothing working. I recall working all through the ‘Winter of discontent‘ helping wire a power station, waiting days for strike delayed supplies, major strikes every week, 90 days to get a phone installed (If you were lucky) by the notoriously semi-retired GPO ‘Engineers’, the threat of fuel rationing, rolling power cuts throughout two very cold winters, having to be in a Union before you were allowed through the gates at most industrial sites. For that job I had to join EEPTU. I was an AUEW member at the time, but apparently that wasn’t good enough, so I had to get nominated for membership by a workmate at the once weekly Union meeting that evening. Had they turned me down I’d have lost the very job I’d just been hired to do the Monday before. As for people I’d never met calling me ‘Brother’ or ‘Comrade’ – that stuck in my craw. Then there was the “Not in the (Insert Union name here) Brother? Sorry, this is a closed shop.” Sometimes even when you were a member of an affiliated Union. Of course if the Union rep and his deputy had bunked off for the day fishing (As was often the case – especially at one of the big sites), you often didn’t get challenged. Other times you did and it was “Sorry comrades.” And out we’d go.
Then there were the times we were sent to a site to begin a job, only to find ourselves facing a ‘secondary picket’. Not necessarily at the factory we had been sent to, but the Union militants didn’t seem to care. Then having to schlep back to base (Having first phoned the boss from a public phone box that had been used as a toilet) via the pub, having lost a days wages. Some months actually went by without a major strike and for once we got some work done. Others didn’t.
I remember the ‘closed shop’ and all the abuses like ‘ghosting’ (Getting a mate to clock you in and out). Blokes who seemed to spend their entire working day in the toilet with the Daily Mirror and a stack of porn magazines. Whole shifts who came in to do night work, then settled down for a nights kip. We’re talking factory workers here, not Firemen waiting for a ‘shout’. Then the Union rep calling everyone out in a wildcat strike when Management finally found out and tried to fire the offenders. For us the Strawbs ironic little number “You don’t get me I’m part of the Union” wasn’t so much a song title as a pain in the arse fact of life. Especially when you were pig sick of doing someone else’s job for them.
Many of us felt nothing but relief when the power of the Unions was finally broken in the mid 1980’s. We’d had it up to our eyebrows, but by then British Industry was too far gone. The 60’s and 70’s had seen to that. So no, we weren’t cheering the miners – we were cursing them. We weren’t cheering on the Coppers either, but that’s another matter.
Old 1970’s / early 80’s joke.
First worker; I see the Daffodils are out.
Second worker; Yeah, Scargill’s just brought the Miners out in sympathy.