Friday, 25 November 2011

My trade union CV

In the past few months I have written out my CV  dozens of times - so many times in fact  that I'm even starting to bore myself.  So just  for a change - I thought I'd set it out in terms of the chronology of my trade union membership. 

I  have to say it's not an inspiring story:

• TGWU - in between school and uni I worked as a lathe operator in a factory making photocopiers. It was an old-fashioned shitty  assembly line and played no small part in getting me politicised. The factory was run on the lines of a caste system; the T&G was the union for the 'un-skilled and semi-skilled' - we wore grey overalls; there were engineers (AUEW) who wore blue lab-coats; and technicians (ASTMS) who wore white lab-coats. Paranoia about demarcation and a kind of apartheid system prevailed.  I wasn't there long enough to form a proper view of it all but it did seem like  something out of disutopian sci-fi movie.

• NUS (students not seamen that is) - I couldn't really take this seriously as a proper trade union. Certainly at that time (the 1980s) and place (Oxbridge) it was a drinking club with overtones of political correctness. The high-point of this was an occupation against the proposal of fees (sounds familiar) - but being a respectable bunch the union actually  booked the venue they were occupying in advance.

• SOGAT - joined by mistake whilst I was a student at the London College of Printing. We used to go down to Wapping on a Friday night - which is where I was first  at the receiving end of  police thuggery . Once I started work - in the pre press sector - I found that I was in the wrong union. It then took about six months of arguing and pleading before I was allowed to transfer to the right one.

• NGA - I came in at a time which might considered the swan song of ascendant craft unionism. The chapel had a degree of control over recruitment and working practices which seems almost impossible in these post-Thatcher days. I thought it was great and in retrospect was a bit seduced by it all. It was corrupt and riddled with nepotism, racism and sexism.  And whilst new technology was about to bury us - the union was burying its head in the past. In my section many of the members identified more with the pre-merger( even more arcane) craft unions- like SLADE and the ASLP. The  leadership was more concerned with defining who could and couldn't join - certainly not the new generation of mac heads who did 'desk top publishing'.  The trouble was this was the next generation who were poised to replace many of our jobs.

• GPMU - at last a single union for the print. Trouble was the stable door was bolted  after the horse had run away. The union at my place - and many other smaller companies - had already been de-recognised and members were largely an aging minority.

• AMICUS and  then UNITE - successive swallowing-ups and the union became increasingly remote and irrelevant. Out of 80 odd people in our place there were three members and one of them was me - supposedly a senior manager. 

Which brings me to the latest installment: When I phoned the union offices a few week ago - the first time I had spoken to anyone there for years - to tell them that I had been made redundant, they could tell me only  that as I'd been in for 25 years  I was eligible for a free 'retired members' level of membership. They didn't even ask me if I was happy that I'd received my statutory rights or offer me any support or advice.  I was seriously tempted to tell them to poke my union card - although I have kept it as an 'unemployed member' out of some sort of misplaced sentimentality.

Here's hoping that wherever I end up next has something resembling a healthy union ...

1 comment:

Chris H said...

Interesting thing to post about!

My first union was AUEW-TASS, although it may have been just as it became TASS in itself,

Then a decade in the IPCS (now prospect) and then into Amicus/Unite. I also believe I'm the only union member in a corporate head office building of about 500 people. Tis a bit lonely.