About universalunionist

Soldier, Lawyer,Trade Unionist

Dinner at the House of the Dead.

Sad to note that the House of the Dead on Ushers Quay in dear old Dublin has now closed and will not be available, this coming Bloomsday (16th June) for the wonderful Joycean dinner hosted by my great friend Brendan Kilty  that were such a joy in the years gone by.    This is a review I did of one such dinner, many years ago

To ushers quay, to the House of the Dead, wherein Joyce set the most famous of his short storieshouse of the dead, “The Dead”. The house is a tall elegant Georgian building with long and equally elegant windows overlooking the river Liffey and the new James Joyce Bridge designed by the Spaniard Santiago Calatrava and of which Joyce would surely approve.

The Georgian interior is lit by candles and the table set as it would have been for a well to do family Christmas in the early part of the twentieth century. We are gathered to celebrate Joyce, to recreate the dinner party, to sing the songs, recite the poems, to drink the wine, to enjoy the open fires, to indulge, reflect. In the same house, in the same rooms that Joyce himself recited the poems and sang the songs and drank the wine and from which experience he wrote such powerful prose.

There is turf on the fire and a beautiful Dublin girl is singing The Lass of Aughrim, accompanied by an Irish fiddle player, no less a musician than John Sheahan of the Dubliners. There are more songs from Joyce and from O’Casey, and tunes from the tin whistle the mandolin and the fiddle, there are poems and a visiting American academic dances and sways before the glowing turfs. Late into the night we spill onto the quays still haunted by the singing and knowing well enough that there will be few nights in Dublin, or indeed anywhere else that will be as enjoyable as dinner at the House of the Dead.


The Bingham Picket line Arrest…

There’s this school in Bingham.  The Toot Hill comprehensive school.  Popular with the children of  a large number of Nottingham commuters that have chosen to settle in this dormitory village,  more of a town these days, set halfway between Nottingham and Newark, just off the old Roman Road known as the Fosse way, or now, the A46.

bingham buttercrossIt’s not a very attractive town with most of the buildings being quite new and constructed with all the imagination of a dull municipal architect, although there is a very handsome and ancient buttercross set in the market square.

In 1979 the manual and ancillary workers employed by the Nottinghamshire County Council at the Toot Hill comprehensive became caught up in the Low pay campaign of the National Union of Public Employees and joined the strike action, popularly known to history as the great winter of discontent.    Thus, the caretakers and the cleaning staff together with the school meals staff came out. And it was bitter and controversial.

It was a bad winter and without the caretaking staff to stoke the boilers that kept the school warm then the Toot Hill school faced closure.  In addition, there was to be no cleaning.  Not of the classrooms, not of the corridors , not of  the toilets.   But Nottinghamshire County Council, under hard-line Tory control, was determined to keep the school open and face down the manual workers.   They hired dozens of Calor gas heaters and the school buildings became encased in a ring of large Calor gas cylinders placed outside the windows of classrooms and corridors.   The teachers decided not to support the strike and kept working and the council managed to find enough strike breaking cleaners to keep emergency cover.

Early each morning in the bitter winter cold, the striking caretakers and cleaners would mount a picket at the entrance drive, at the top of the hill where incoming teachers would drive up to the school carpark.   Their instructions were not to try and stop them entering the school but to hand out strike leaflets and to try and persuade them to support the low pay campaign.   For the teachers It was a fairly friendly “information picket” although there were real attempts to stop the regular deliveries of replacement Calor gas cylinders.

On and on went the strike through that dreadful winter and it was my task as the regional organiser to visit this picket line, and many others throughout the county, to keep support going, pay strike pay and generally keep an eye on things.

It was a bleak,  cold and frosty Monday morning,  horribly early, 5 am or thereabouts.  Five or six pickets, school caretakers and cleaning staff, well wrapped up, stamping to keep warm in the freezing temperatures, waiting for the gas cylinder delivery trucks to try and stop them entering, ready for the teachers to arrive to try and persuade them not to enter;  a few posters, official strike notices, armbands, stickers.

badge nupe picket

A white saloon car appeared at the bottom of the drive.  It was too early for the teachers.  The  saloon stopped and it was clear we were being watched by the driver.   He started to move up the drive and suddenly, without the slightest warning, he accelerated.   At high speed he sped towards the picket, causing them and me to leap out of the way, for had we not done so he would have hit at least one of us.   The car had swerved deliberately towards the picket and now sped off up the drive at high speed into the school carpark.    We were in a bit of shock.   I ran up to the car park to accost the driver,  He had spun round in the car park and was now facing the exit.  I ran to the driver’s window which was down.  Grabbed him by the throat of his white shirt and called him an unprintable type of person, accused him of deliberately trying to ram us and punched him in the chest.  Hard.

He resisted and grabbed my wrists and we struggled for a minute or so.  He shouted out he was a police officer and then produced a pair of epaulets saying he was Inspector Smith. And that I was nicked.   My aggression subsided, and he roughly handcuffed me and was bundling me into the car.  By now the other caretakers had reached the car park, equally angry,  I shouted to them that I was being arrested and they should call the regional office.

He took me, Inspector Smith, to Bingham Police Station where I was formally charged with obstruction and assaulting a police officer.  I was photographed and fingerprinted and an inventory of my possessions was made.  In the pocket of my Barbour jacket was £15,000.   Money I was distributing as strike pay to various locations around the county.   Russian gold, Inspector Smith called it as I was banged up in a Bingham cell.

It was not long before the Union solicitor arrived and I was duly bailed to appear before Bingham magistrates to answer to the charges.  I can’t now recall the name of the solicitor.  She had offices up on Derby Road and a large black dog and had been commissioned by the Unions regular solicitors, Thompsons, to deal with the arrest.  The arrest attracted a fair amount of press coverage.  Not that arrests on the picket lines were uncommon, they were not, but the arrest of a full-time union officer was a little unusual.

A problem arose in that the chairperson of the Bingham magistrates turned out to be the Chair of Nottinghamshire County Council Education Committee.  Notts County Council were the employers against whom the strike was directed.   I was advised to make an application to a High Court Judge at the Nottingham Shire Hall for an alternative venue for the trial because of the possibility of bias in Bingham.   A barrister was appointed and thus it was I appeared before Mr. Justice Savage, in his chambers, at the Shire Hall Courts.   The Shire Hall was in very poor condition as the cleaner’s caretakers and boilermen employed therein were all out on strike in the same low pay campaign.   Thus, the place was freezing cold,  it stank, the toilets were blocked, the ancient stone floors filthy with litter, uncleaned for many weeks.  Mr. Justice savage wore a red robe, but no wig.  I think he only wore the robe because it was so cold with just a two bar electric heater. There was a military officer in the room in dress uniform with a sword across his knees.

“Are you the chap responsible for the strike here?” asked the judge.

Despite my lengthy political explanation of the low wages that the  Shire Hall manual staff earned, in comparison with that of judges for exapple, and the deep political necessity for the strike and the need to establish a mimimum wage,  during which my barrister was desperately trying to shut me up, the application to change venue was denied.

And so, to the Bingham magistrates court.   Councillor Minkley, she who was the chairperson of the Education Committee decided not to sit and I do not now recall who it was who heard the case.

As luck would have it we had found an elderly German piano teacher who had been out walking her dog on the relevant morning.  She had witnessed the white saloon car, driving at high speed and swerving towards the picket.   She had not seen what happened in the car park but was a first rate independant witness as  to the behavior which prompted the subsequent confrontation and she completely corroborated the narrative and evidence of the other picketers.

My own evidence was that as the responsible union officer I felt it necessary to advise the driver that I would have to report him to the police for dangerous driving.   When I told him this, in a polite but firm manner, He replied by saying “  I am the fucking police and you, you communist bastard, are nicked”

I somewhat doubt that the magistrates believed this was the truth of what occurred in the carpark, but the evidence of the German piano teacher was so strong that it was sufficient to have the charges struck out.

There was quite a lot of press coverage of the trial.  It was the days before social media and I am sure if it happened today the local twitter feeds would be full of negative comments.   To express your hatred in those days required that you find a notepad, a pen, an envelope, a stamp and then search for an address and go to the trouble of visiting a post box.   Even so, there were one or two rather horrible letters.  The one that most pleased me was from the British National Party who sent a letter addressed to the “communist bastard” Nottingham.   No name no address.    The local post office kindly filled in the details and delivered it safely to my home in Snienton!


The story of the strike at the Shirehall is told here:  Winter of Discontent and the Nottingham Shire Hall

We never really reconcilled with Councillor Minkly, even though we sent her a valentine card:  Cuts valentine poem






50 Yards of Florence;

The medieval lanes and streets and alleys provide welcome breaks of shade from the heat and the sun, and occasionally from the crocodile lines of tourist groups faithfully following their guides.  But you tire easily for you are not so young now, the back hurts a bit, the legs ache,  the sun is hot, you need to pause, to sit down, recover a little and you look for a pavement bar or café. But they can be intimidating these Italian bars and cafés,  and you pass that one and avoid this one and then you come across a rough looking bar in a little rough looking space, a small scruffy square; there is graffiti on the walls and a few battered tables and chairs clustered outside the very ordinary and un-prepossessing door of the bar “Mingo”  There is a van, and a motor cycle lazily  parked across the small square but it becomes, for the tired intimidated hot uncomfortable you, a little oasis, and you slump into one of the battered chairs at one of the battered tables.

Florence square

A Screengrab from Google Earth showing the scruffy square at Piazza San Marinio

A beer, a cold Italian Moretti beer.  And you relax, stretch, calm down, cool down, revive, become human again. Begin to look about you.

You are in the Piazza San Marino on the narrow non-descript  Via dei Magazzini as it opens into the scruffy square and forms a junction with the Via Dante Alighieri.  At number 2 Via dei Magazzini there is a municipal office or yard of some kind, almost adjacent to the square and the bar.  my Italian is poor, the sign suggests the office of urbanisation?  This must make café Mingo a worker’s bar for it has none of the pretensions to being one of the touristy places that abound in Florence.   Number 1 Via Maggazini, next to the run down municipal offices of urbanisation, is a tall building of rough stone.  It is a tower!  A Florentine tower, a 1000-year-old tower, there is a sign upon it, something about it belonging, I think, to the Garibaldi society or the Garibaldi association, is that something to do with united biscuits?

You are intrigued now, relaxed and intrigued.  The tower is closed up, its tall forbidding doors, brown and studded, faded by the weather and the sun.  Occasionally a crocodile of tourists stops, and the guide tells them something of the tower, two minutes and on they go.  I can’t hear what they say for nowadays the crocodile tourists have small receivers around their necks and an earphone, the guide talks softly into her microphone and only the crocodile tourists can hear.   It is the 11th century Torre della Castagna, (Tower of the Chestnuts) , once the  stronghold of the Baccadiferro family at a time when Florence was ruled by gangs and clans and was far more dangerous and lethal than the wild west ever was.

Directly across, from the tower, on the opposite side of the scruffy square, a small private chapel, an oratory.   The crocodiles don’t point their trailing charges at it or even seem to notice it but there are one or two visitors who enter, sometimes a couple, often alone.

beer glassAnother beer, a cold Italian Moretti, served as they always do in Europe, in a wonderful glass, a goblet, a chalice, it works so well in the warmth of the Italian sun, or the Belgium architecture or the French café.  In England, and in Ireland we take our beer in plain pints, in Europe, in a painted goblet.

There is a parked motorcycle, the city is full of them, a Lambretta type, parked across the tables at the top of the square by the Via Dante Alighieri, immediately outside the chapel or oratory.   Two local Florentine municipal carabinieri (vigili urban) march purposefully into the square.   They wear helmets, like a London policeman’s helmet,f;premce [p;oce,am 2 but in white, of plastic or perhaps Bakelite, they look odd, a little comical, white Sam brown belts, cool Florentine white leather satchels, pistols in white holsters, they surround the motorcycle in officious determination and write on notebooks taken from the white leather satchels, noting the number, looking for tax discs, take photographs.   A man in the bar talks to them, agitated, agitated Italian, he goes off to fetch the owner and another man, leaning, relaxed from an upper window on the via Dante Alighieri begins to shout at the officers, good-humouredly, perhaps telling them to do something useful, as natives do, in all the cities of all the world.  They take an enormous amount of time securing their prey, a young lady turns up, it is her machine, she opens the panniers, looking for documents, she is distressed, they chastise her, she cannot find the documents, , they are insistent, a ticket is given, everyone shrugs and off they go these white-helmeted carabinieri, in their comical white hats. Looking for more Lambrettas,

In the chapel, the small oratory opposite the tower.  it is dark and cool, it takes a while to adjust from the bright shade of the square.   It is quite beautiful. It is the 15th Century Oratory of the Buonomini of San Marinoalms 1

The Buonomini,  in medieval times, gave alms and comfort to those in the city who fell upon hard times, the walls have a series of ten wonderful frescos, bright as the day they were painted,  showing the noble fraternity of the Buonomini distributing alms to the poor, visiting the sick, burying the dead, performing the Christian works of Corporal mercy:   It is religious, but not spiritual, it is the charitable works of the Lord, it is the salvation army, the good Samaritans.

You have stumbled across, in this scruffy square, with its battered tables and graffiti, a little treasure of Florence.   A 1000-year-old tower and now a 15th-century oratory with frescos by Florentine masters, and no ques, and no crocodiles of tourists.

Refreshed, you follow the via Dante Alighieri for a few yards, no more, and there is the house of Dante.  He knew these streets, he walked here, you are walking in the footsteps of Dante, in his very neighborhood, he would have known the scruffy square where you had taken the Italian beer.

A gallery, in a charming old building, with great studded doors and wooden shutters, of contemporary art.   It is small, and it is free and there are no long crocodiles waiting to get in.

You continue along the via Dante Alighieri  and there is a door, no more than 40 yards from the scruffy square, a large tall open door and sign upon the steps, a cardboard sign inviting you in to see the “produce of our monastery” and inside, in  a little cubbyhole of a space a nun presides over the jars of honey, the bottles of wine, the rosaries and the small sacred figures of those who lived with Christ.   The Chianti of the monastery is €7 for a bottle and you cannot resist, God bless the monks.   Music is playing on a small CD player.  It is the music of the monastery, the chanting of Vespers by the nuns and the monks.  The nun sees you admiring the sound.

“You can come to Vespers,” she says, “and hear us sing”.

It is late now, almost 6pm and Vespers will begin on the hour of six.   You are in the Bardia Fiorentina, a church and abbey, once owned by the Benedictines but now the place of worship for the Fraternita’ di Gerusalemme, or the Fraternity of Jerusalem    It is quiet, there are no crocodiles, there is a small pleasant courtyard and a great church, dating from 978.

So, you go to Vespers, the sunset service..  In the Bardia Fiorentina.  It is dark, lit by candlelight, there is hardly anyone there, a congregation of ten or twelve, in this massive, soaring Italian Romanesque interior, a great Byzantine cross hangs over the altar, it’s gold leaf picking up the reflecting candlelight.  And gathered before the altar rails are the nuns.

They are robed in full-length white cloaks, kneeling before their god.  There are monks too, across the aisle, again all in white, before the altar rails. And there are priests.  There is incense, swung by a monk from a golden thurible on a heavy chain; and an organ is playing.


The singing is so sweet, so wonderful, so soaring, so respectful.  In Italian.   Dante, in his day, would have heard the Mass and the vespers being sung here.  It is his neighborhood and has been sung here in this church since medieval times.  It is said that it was here he first saw Beatrice. He would have heard it in Latin and how his heart would soar to hear it now, in the Italian, the language of his poetry, the language he gave to Italy.

The nuns are like ghostly sculptures, singing softly in their long white robes

vespers 4

You are not a man of God, but few would fail to be moved by this.  It is the essence of medieval Florence

It is over, and you emerge from the cool darkness of the church.

You have traveled not more than fifty yards since you sat in the battered seats of the bar Mingo in the scruffy Piazza San Marino.    You have been to the Duma, to the grave of Michelangelo in the church of Santa Croce, to the Uffizi, following the tourist crocodiles around Giotto and Botticelli and Raphael; to Tuscan vineyards and to the Etruscan heights of Firenze, but that 50 yards of Florence that you stumbled across, by accident,  that, non-descript fifty medieval yards, that  is what will remain with you, when you leave this gorgeous medieval city and get back to the plain pints of Ireland and the  cold climes of Northern Europe.


When I were a lad in Gibraltar….

shackelton over gibraltarWhen I were but a lad in Gibraltar the RAF had a squadron of Shackleton bombers. Quite big beasts that resembled the old Lancaster bombers of WWII and which had a deep throaty roar as they flew over the rock out to sea.
Down at Europa Point alongside the lighthouse there was a kind of ledge and from time to time the military, probably the Royal Artillery, would set up a line of anti-aircraft guns, six of seven of them, probably a whole battery of guns although I’m not sure how may guns are in a battery. We would watch them, had a grandstand view only a few yards from the ledge. They would practice drills for hours, loading, unloading, traversing, and cleaning gun barrels and running around with boxes of ammunition. In the afternoon one of the Shackleton bombers would appear far out to sea, flying high, North to South and towing behind it, on an enormously long rope, an orange target. And now the guns would open fire and there was a great cacophony of noise with men in tin hats running about with shells, loading the firing guns, more tin hats, moulded to the gun seats spinning little brass wheels and tracking the target,t and more tin hats with binoculars watching the target and shouting instructions. The poor orange target didn’t stand a chance and there was acrid smoke from the guns and it was really really exciting. Afterwards would come a NAAFI tea van, or maybe it was the WRVS and serve the soldiers large mugs of tea and huge white sandwiches, “wads” they called them and the soldiers would chat to us and give us a sip of tea

The President’s Club “do”

Well well, that was a bit of to do about those President’s club men having a night out on their own.  Their annual “charity dinner” at the Dorchester.

Their problem, I reckon, was they are too rich.  Wearing a tux at a really really posh expensive hotel, that’s where they went wrong.

After all the working class have being doing it for years.  And the middle class.  They still are.

Years back, when I worked for a local constabulary we used to have what were called “gentlemen’s smoking evenings”  I went to one up at the old   Commodore  on Nuthall Road.    It wer well attended, constables, inspectors, superintendents, detectives they were all there.   It was a night of alcohol with comedians making graphic sexual jokes, alcohol with strippers, alcohol with young pretty waitress in classic waitress uniforms, skimpy of course.   All interspersed with raffles and auctions and collections for local charitable causes.     The jokes were foul, in subject and in language – Roy Chubby Brown standard, bit worse really.  Oh yeah, lot of racist jokes.


There wer even officers on duty.  Uniformed and CID.   The CID guys left early, called out to investigate something urgent, probably a rape or someat.

Organisers were making a fortune for these “gentlemen’s smoking evenings” they were popular as hell.  Firemen, bankers, sales meetings, doctor’s conferences, college lecturers, we were all at it.


And the pubs in Nottingham, and I’m sure in every other cit.  Many many had their “gentlemen’s attractions” .   I used to have a drink from time to time at the Duke of Cambridge on the Carlton Road.   It was where the local labour party branch met.  Manvers ward.   Chairman was the local vicar.   On Thursdays, the entrepreneurial landlord would have a topless barmaid night.   Very popular it was.  Often met labour party colleagues there “just for a drink” you know.  Probably still going on, if the pub still there.  Barmaids will be pensioners by now.     Caught on in quite a few pubs, the March Hare, just up the road, stared its own topless night to compete with the Duke of Cambridge.  Manvers branch started to meet there too.


But it still goes on.   Not even with any great subtly Have you been to a live show of some of the mainline BBC and every other bloody channel comedians?  Put the Presidents Club do into the ha’ penny place.   But big difference is that they are attended by both men and women, all paying top dollar for foul vernacular language, graphic misogynistic sexually explicit jokes and stories.    They’ve cut the racist jokes, but its just as bad, worse in fact.

I went, up in Edinburgh, year or so ago, to a huge gig  by Jimmy Carr, tax dodging doyen of  all the TV  comedy chat shows.


He picks out a pretty girl from the audience.

“Your boyfriend asked you to piss on him?  guffaw guffaw guffaw.  Did you like it? guffaw guffaw guffaw”

He shows a slide of a drawing of a man masturbating himself with the hand of a dead arm belonging to a man in a coffin, sperm spurting onto his coat:  guffaw guffaw guffaw.Ha ha ha ha guffaw,

“Anal sex is a load of shit, Ha ha ha, guffaw  “And it hurts like buggery, ha ha guffaw  ha haa And it bores my wife ha ha oh ha ha oh guffaw guffaw ha ha:

There was a heckler, angry about him dodging tax. “where’s your accountant?”  he shouts.

Guffaw, Ha ha ha. He’s at your place fucking your mum. Ha ha ha ha guffaw ha ha. Go home and wipe the cum off her mouth: ha ha ha guffaw ha guffaw ha ha,

What a put down. What wit.  What misogyny, what respect for women.  Was it that bad at the President’s culb?

The audience, the sophisticated festival loving, well heeled, university educated, guardian reading, leftist  bourgeoisie, packed into the venue in their hundreds,  they loved it, roared their appreciation, lapped it up

He invites woman from audience to join him in a “playlet” he has written.  She is pretty, of course. He gets her to read her part in the play from a prepared script.

“ I want you, Jimmy, for your large fat cock” Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha .

There’s a collection at the end.  Its , for abused children he tells us. With every £100 we can buy their silence; ha ha ha guffaw guffaw ha ha ha ha .ha ha ha ha”.

The Presidents club?   Small beer mate.  We all need to take a hard look at ourselves, and our television comedic heroes

Trying to organise the Youth Opportunites Programme in Nottingham

Boy from CotgraveI lived up Sneinton way.  The Union office was up in Sherwood Rise and to avoid the city centre traffic I would go across Carlton road, up through St Anns, drop onto the St. Anns Well Road, take a left and then a short right and a dog leg up Curzon Street, that would bring me out on Huntington Street, near to the Mansfield Road, clear of the city and only minutes from the office.

Curzon Street, at that time was just an open space of derelict buildings, the  last remains of the St. Anns slum clearance programme which had demolished the crowded acres of back to back terraces with their smelly  outhouses, and replaced them with spacious, well-lit social housing with indoor toilets and bathrooms

It was November and bitterly cold when I noticed, as I took the dog leg, a number of lads clearing the derelict sites, collecting bricks and timber into piles and doing a general tidy-up.   They looked miserable as hell and I stopped the car and asked them what they were up to.

Turned out they were trainees from a Youth Opportunities Programme.

Asked if they had a site hut?  No.  Where was their safety gear?  Got none.   What did they do for shelter or for toilets?   They pointed to a few old doors leaning against a wall.  They would shelter under there for a fag.  Toilets were another couple of doors further down the site although they only went there for a slash – anything else they would go over to the bus station in the Victoria Centre.

“You need a union”   I said, “get this fucking sorted”

I had union membership applications in the car and signed them all up, there and then.   The proper union for such work was probably the Union of Construction and Allied Trades, or perhaps the General  & Municipal or the Transport & General.  My union looked after manual and ancillary workers in local authorities, the health service and other public bodies.   But, what the hell, this looked pretty serious and they werein a miserable condition and  keen to join and get things sorted.

I forget now the name of the particular Youth Opportunities Scheme that they belonged to but I allocated them to membership of the Nottingham Social Services Branch of the Union and got one of the Branch’s senior shop stewards to come with me to the YOP agency offices to try and this sorted.

It frustrates me that I can’t remember the name of that senior shop steward.  He went off to Wales a year or so later and has never been heard of again.  He was a member of the International Marxist Group which had quite a strong presence in the city.   I felt it prudent to counsel him  to let me do the talking and not to get too militant or stroppy.

The Agency had offices in Emmanuel House at the bottom of Hockley.   It may have been an old department store once, probably a Woolworths or something similar.   It was now, downstairs, a centre for the homeless where they could pick up donated clothing and such like.   The YOP agency had taken the first floor as their offices.   It was an odd shaped office, as Emmanuel House did a kind sharpish U turn at the bottom of Hockley.   The manager’s office thus had windows overlooking both Hockley and Lower Parliament Street.  It was in the U bend on the first floor of the building.

The manager/sponsor of the scheme was an ex-army major and he looked like an ex-army major.  And spoke like an ex-army major, in short clipped sentences.    We were given tea and biscuits, served by a young girl who was obviously another YOP trainee.

I wanted to make clear to the major that I was a bit more than an ordinary trade union official and stressed to him that I sat, for the TUC, on the Manpower Services Commission Board which was responsible for approving and funding YOP schemes and that he really needed to pay attention to what we were going to ask him to do.

It was pretty simple really.  We wanted him to close the site with immediate effect until they put in place a proper site hut, a portaloo, and gave the boys proper safety equipment, hard hats, safety boots and gloves, donkey jackets.

He said he would get those things pretty soon.  Would be helpful, he suggested if the funding was a bit better, but he couldn’t close the site as he only had a limited period, from the contractors, to clear it.

I knew, and reminded him, that the funding provided by the MSC ncluded provision for safety gear and equipment and he really needed to close the site down and get this sorted.

But he wouldn’t have it.

So I put the pressure on a bit.   “Those boys have all joined my union” I says, “this is not an academic request and if you can’t close the site then I’ll close it for you”

“They can’t join a union!   They’re trainees not workers, Manpower Services won’t allow that, I will sort out the safety issues, but it’s going to take a bit of time., you’ll have to wait.”

“I don’t care what Manpower Services think, they all joined and we want you to recognise the union and if you can’t close down the site then I am going to do it for you.”

He sat back in his chair and looked at us with a degree of military contempt.  “Look, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t like Trade Unions, they cause more problems than they solve.   And in particular, your union, NUPE is it?  I’ve heard of you lot and I’m terribly sorry but you will not getting any formal recognition from me.

I glanced across at the International Marxist, he was looking at the major with steely grey Trotskyist eyes.

We had a cup of tea in our hands, sipping the tea and holding the saucer.    I looked at the major.  I  banged the tea cup down on his desk and stood up, fuming with anger and outrage.   The chair fell backwards.

“Right, major, we tried to do this the nice way now were going do it the hard way!  Those boys are on strike and they’re not going back until you get this bloody sorted!   I strode to the door, and grabbed the handle, I turned back to him, “We will be back major, and you will sort this out and you will recognise my union”   I opened the door and walked straight into a cupboard.

It was the Marxist who let me out of the cupboard and showed me out of the proper exit, and we stamped down the stairs onto Lower Parliament Street   I was still fuming but my Marxist shop steward was dancing a little jig and laughing his head off.

We walked across to Curzon Street and told the lads they were on strike and they were quite delighted.  We took them over to the Peacock public house on Mansfield Road and they had bowls of hot soup in the back room.   I would bught them all a pints but there you are, they were old enough to strike but not old enough to drink.

One of the pleasures of the union was to see disputes resolve in your favour.   Often, it has to be said,  quite a rare pleasure. We arranged to meet the boys at the site the next morning, to decide whether to picket or not.     When we got there, about 7 am, there was a truck delivering a half size porta cabin, it had a little kitchen and a generator so they could brew up; and there was a portaloo positioned in a more discrete part of the site.   The boys were asked to go down to Emmanuel House and they emerged shortly afterwards all with yellow hard hats,  brown safety boots and wearing donkey jackets that were slightly too large for them. and industrial gloves.     And a grin on their faces like they’d just won the lottery.

Me and the major, we  became bosom friends.  But I still can’t remember his name.

There were consequences, of course.   We tried to recruit YOP trainees on a much wider scale for there were dozens of these schemes popping up all over the place and the trainees were very vulnerable to exploitation.   But it proved a difficult if impossible task.  There was a rapid turnover of trainees in every scheme; they were paid an allowance rather than a wage and it was a bit unfair to take a full union subscription from their allowance, besides it became very difficult to collect the subscriptions. .    Even where we were able to agree “check off” arrangements (deduction of subscription before they got the allowance) the arrangements  quickly fell apart for these schemes did not have human resources departments or experienced personal officers and the administration of such arrangements constantly collapsed.   And above all, our first priority was our core membership in the local authorities and hospitals.  This was the age of Thatcher and she was cutting us to ribbons and most of our time was rightly allocated to the fight against Thatcher;s cuts.

We did manage to tighten up the union approval of such schemes.   The public sector unions developed  an almost Stalinist like central committee that examined all YOP proposals and was such a good filter that by the time the proposals reached the Board of the Manpowere Services Commision then all the basic problems had been sorted out.

We still halted some schemes or refused to fund others.   One that stands out in my memory was a scheme proposed by the Nottingham Evening Post.   In truth it was quite a well-designed scheme, one of the better proposals that came before the Board.   But the Evening Post was under boycott by the Unions.   There had been a bitter year long dispute at the Post.    They were the first newspaper to introduce the new printing technology, long before Murdoch at Wapping or Eddie Shah at Warrington.   They systematically destroyed the print unions and at the end of the dispute they refused to re-instate any of the print workers or journalists who had taken part in the dispute, including my old friend, I am pleased to remember him, George Miller the blind journalist who, if it’s not unfair to say so, had a real eye for union stories.   There was simply no way the union reps would approve of an Evening Post YOP scheme, no matter how good it was.     Uproar followed with the Employer representatives of the board being outraged and the civil servants incandescent.   The post ran front page stories condemning us as irresponsible.    But they never got their scheme.  I still don’t buy the Post.

Walking into that cupboard had quite an effect upon my reputation amongst the Nottingham left.   The tale spread rapidly around theTrotskyist grapevine, often grossly exaggerated but mostly in my favour. What can I say, it probably opened afew doors for me.

The Bus Pass

13 busUsed my bus pass for the first time today. Caught the No: 13 from outside of  the Guinness brewery at St. James’s Gate; top deck front seat, out of the liberties through scruffy scruffy, down at heel Thomas Street,  out onto the glories of Christchurch and then down the gentle slope of Dame Street in all its seasonal dressing, past the Olympia theatre, quick glance up at the lower Castle gates and down on to college green and the smug superiority of Trinity College, and left towards the river and across O’Connell bridge, past the passionate statute of Jim Larkin which always touches my heart and then the GPO and the silver spire until the bus discharged me onto the broad pavements, a fully paid up, certified, bus pass carrying genuine old codger, off to breakfast at the Patisserie Valerie, eggs Benedict and a pot of tea.