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 ...