OXFORD BOOK SHOP STRIKE (Blackwells)


Oxford book shop_NEWFerkling through my personal archive (two shoe boxes at the bottom of the cupboard) I came across this reminder of a historically interesting Oxford strike, for union recognition, at the Oxford bookshop and publishing premises of Blackwells.
The be-suited man talking to the two earnest pickets, who are listening with rapt attention to his words of wisdom, is, I think, one of the Blackwell family, perhaps even the Managing Director. The pickets are Ruskin College students, from the Ruskin Trade Union Support Group, whose members supported and fortified the picket lines throughout the long months of the strike. This particular picket line is outside Blackwell’s factory warehouse and printing works. It was one of those 6 am pickets that required considerable commitment to sustain it through the cold winter. It was fairly peaceful although I remember, on one of the more vigorous days, delivering a rather fierce kick with my steel toe-caped boots into the sleek black bodywork of the MD’s limousine.
I cannot for the life of me remember the names of both of the two Ruskin picketers. But the one with the red and white bobble cap was  Bill Pritchard, a  Welshman and former shop steward in the Ford factories of Wales..  We studied English together under Valerie Hughes. Rough working class lads we were – never read a book or looked at a poem. By the end of Ruskin we were writing our own poems and the rough edges had been honed down a bit, in a way which was the bread and butter of Ruskin’s way with working men and women. (one of my efforts at poetry here)  Standing against the wall, with the long hair is Kevin Barron.  He was an exceptionally gifted student,  ahead of whom lay all the glittering prizes of Oxford.  Unfortunately he lost his way and after Ruskin spiraled  ever downwards, chasing ephemeral ideas.  We tried to stop him, to give him help but he ended un the Labour member of parliament for the Rother Valley
The other picket line was at the famous Blackwells bookshop on the Broad Street. Oh course the hooray henrys of the Oxford colleges, of which there was rather a lot, enjoyed nothing more than passing through the Broad Street picket line as often as they possibly could. The action on Broad Street was therefore mush more interesting. From time to time we held mass pickets which attracted every left wing student and activist in Oxfordshire. Now and then the mass pickets were held inside the shop in order to prevent anyone else getting in. On such occasions the hard left factions would systematically tear out the last pages of the whodunit novels. At least they said they did although it might be a bit apocryphal. The more cerebral students would take out all the books in the window displays and replace them with tomes on good management, the theory of industrial relations, histories of the trade union movement and so on.
The strike was in the end quite successful and among the other treasures, found in my archive was a letter from the local TGWU addressed to me, because I was the secretary to the Ruskin Trade Union Support Group, thanking us for our support.
Ah! Glory days.

Oxford book shop strike letter_NEW

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17 thoughts on “OXFORD BOOK SHOP STRIKE (Blackwells)

  1. Ken Terry. Fond memories, I’m sure the picket in the red hat is Bill Pritchard who came from Neath West Glamorgan and I believe worked in the car industry(poss Ford). At the rear in the long black overcoat is undoubtedly Kevin Barron who became a labour M.P. for Rother Valley and still is. I remember the strike well as I was charged with disturbing the peace and Chris Barnes was done for aiding and abeting whilst touring the city with a loud speaker asking people not to shop at Blackwells, these charges later dropped, we never did know why. good times indeed.
    21 minutes ago · Like

    • If my memory serves me right, Billy Hughes was the principal at the time and was still principal when our year left in 1977.,John Hughes took over when he retired (not sure of that date)

    • Bill Hughes retired during my time at Ruskin. John too over from him . I was there from 1974-1976 but was still hanging about because I had found a job in kidlington .

  2. The glory days of the 1975/77 Ruskin year, do you remember the Randolph Hotel and Linton Lodge disputes – picket lines organised military style by Pip Jackson. We also supported Rab McNultly, arrested on the Linton Lodge mass picket, when he appeared in court as guilty as hell but defended brilliantly and got off scot free. I think we carried him shoulder high from the court. Great days all for the cause of trade union recognition. I

  3. i was on the picket line at Linton Lodge – I had left Ruskin, and did my two years to complete up on a degree at Oxford. I worked in Oxford for another couple of years or so. Fond memories indeed. Dave Merrick

      • Sure John, I loved my time there. It has stood me in good stead for the rest of my life and education. I haven’t stopped attending picket lines or stopped educating myself! Cheers, Dave

  4. I was on the Linton Lodge picket line in 1977 which was campaigning for a fair wage for immigrant hotel workers. I believe Danny Murphy from Newham North East in London was arrested and charged with Affray or something like that. The Hotel Manager attacked him so Danny defended himself very well and was arrested. He too was acquitted by a Jury at Oxford Crown Court. By sheer co-incidence two of the Jurors went on to become Ruskin Students.

    As RSU members we also continued to boycott the White Hart, the nearest Pub to the Rookery in Headington. The Landlord had refused to serve Striking Miners in the 1974 National Miners Strike. To their shame the 1980/82 intake rescinded the RSU decision.

    With Maria Van Helmond as Secretary, I was the President of the Mature Students Union in 1977/8. Jim Callaghan, Labour Prime Minister at the time decided to launch another ‘National Debate’ on Education calling for the return to teaching of the 3 Rs. Reading Riting and Rithmatic.
    He chose Ruskin as the venue to Launch the debate. He laid the foundation stone of a New Accommodation Block at the Rookery. We had a meeting with Jim Callaghan with his MI5 security team in the wings and put the MSU demands; including abolishing of the age limit on rail cards (then 25) and higher grants for Mature Students.(heady stuff aye!) Both were achieved that year I believe. When the ceremony for the foundation stone was held, Jim had his back to an ‘A post’ type scaffolding where one of the Students unbeknown to us had placed a large placard that read ..”Jim Loves Julian more than he loves Splott”. A reference to his friendship with Julian Hodge the owner of the so-called ‘Bank of Wales’ (A Merchant Bank – not a clearing bank).Jim was MP for Cardiff which included Splott (or as it was also known: ‘Tiger Bay’). The placard and slogan was a front page photo in the following days’ ‘Telegraph’. You can hear them now in the Charlton club…” Those reds from Ruskin… and we pay to keep them there”.

    By the way, I was interviewed by Billy Hughes in June 1977 and he advised me to go for the Ruskin Social Studies Diploma. Only the ambitious ones did 3 hour time test exams ready for their PPE degree courses in Oxford Uni. I returned home to Wales in June 1978 and was elected full time NUM Lodge Secretary of St John’s Colliery. I was later in 1982 elected to the Executive Council of the NUM South Wales area. In the 1984 Miners Strike ,the state, guided by the ruling class ,personified by Thatcher and Ridley, took on the NUM. We all have a view on that. My views are published in the Book: ‘When We Were Miners’, Ken Smith Press. http://www.whenwewereminers.co.uk.

    • Ian, Dave, Ken and John Mcgu good to know you are still out there doing your stuff for the workers cause.
      Our time at Ruskin was well spent . Together with our industrial backgrounds our studying has been put to good use I am sure since our years 1975/77.
      We now face the consequence of capitalisms global crisis. The only solution the ruling class has is to take the little gains made from those that have the least. When we look back little has really changed for the vast majority of working people who still suffer the in security from one pay packet to the next.
      I am just back from a Ruskin College Finance Committee our college still needs our support, since it is getting tougher as government funding reduces and the college is more and more committed to self funding. It needs to be used by us especially during out of term time. It will be good for all of us to visit the and see the transformation of the Headington building – the James Callaghan Library is fantastic.

      • Hi John,

        It would be nice to visit and support in any ways possible. I’d love to see the library. Look after yourself,

        Cheers,

        Dave

  5. All power to your past endeavours (no Oxford/Morse pun intended) Comrades. I was president of the RSU in 1994/95. No such excitement at that time. Now work as an Organiser with Unite. Regards John Morgan

  6. I took part in both the Lynton Lodge and Randolph Hotels disputes and remember Pip Jackson nearly being run over and the lead singer from Hot Chocolate pushing his way through the picket outside the Randolph.

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