Ferkling 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.
For more Bits and Pieces check out the contents page