Well, my initiation wasn’t in the trade union at all. It was in the political movement. At the age of fifteen I decided that the world was wrong and I wanted to put it right, virtually overnight if possible. I did two things. First of all I wrote to the Labour Party and asked them if there was any youth organization which I could belong to, or if there was any association at all where I could play a part. Additionally I wrote to the British-Soviet Friendship Society; I was reading the Daily Worker at this time, and asked them if I could join because I wanted to further friendship between peoples. I got a reply from them but I didn’t get a reply from the Labour Party in spite of two more letters. I thought here I am, I want to contribute to a world where I know everything’s wrong and I want to try to put it right, at least play my part. I read Jack London’s novel the Iron Heel and many other of his works. I think he was more responsible for me being a socialist than anything. I was shocked that we can have a world of plenty and
My father was never a union official, but he was always active. He never had any prominence in a sense of being a figure in local government or politics and yet I suppose he’s one of the best-read people I’ve ever met in my life. I owe more to my father than anybody else for my introduction into the trade union movement. And even today if I have a problem I think it’s a very good thing to discuss it with my father because I get a lot of common sense from him—a really detached view of the situation; and invariably it’s the right sort of decision he produces. I began to be very active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and was chairman of the Yorkshire district. I went to the Soviet Union to the World Youth Festival, met Khruschev and a lot of other leaders and played an important international role in the Young Communist League.
I went on very actively in the Young Communist League until I was about eighteen years of age; and then I gradually began to be interested in the union itself because it appeared to me that; irrespective of what I did politically in the Young Communist League or the Labour League of Youth as it then was, the Labour or Communist Party or any other political organization, the real power—and I say that in the best possible sense—the real power lay either with the working classes or with the ruling classes. Now the working classes were obviously identified with the trade union movement and not directly identified with the Labour Party which in my opinion had, and indeed still has, lost complete contact with the basic problems of the movement and the rank and file. And so I started to attend union meetings; I’ll never forget the first one. I stood on my feet and started to speak and I thought I was making a very good contribution; but the leadership of the pit, which is a very large one of 2,700 men, stood up, walked out and left me speaking to myself. What a fantastic state of affairs. This was just a forerunner of what was to happen to me over the years at the pit. I suffered terribly as a result of the right-wing domination. My pit was even more of a right-wing centre than you can imagine. It made some of the antics in the etu look like Sunday school. The leadership were responsible for some of
It was a combination of both. The branch arranged the meetings on a Friday when we couldn’t attend because we were on awkward shifts. We were young, we were militant and putting forward a line which they didn’t like, and so the only way they could think of stopping us was preventing us attending the meetings.
No, it was a very broad militant and progressive group of young miners at the colliery. In fact many of them had no political convictions at all, apart from the fact that they could see injustice. They didn’t accept that this should be the order of the day and they were determined to put it right. This went on for several years. Finally I led a strike at the pit over the question of training and I was expelled from the union at local level. It took the intervention of the Area President of the num to get me reinstated. It was ironic that the right wing at that time had guards on the door of the branch meeting and wouldn’t allow me to enter the room. This may seem incredible to you. This can be checked with anyone. There are people around who were there. In fact, some of them who were guarding the door! So here was a young man of eighteen years of age, being denied the right, physically, even to go to his own branch meeting. This was the sort of experience I have in the trade-union movement.
I was beginning to understand at this time the biggest problem facing
A whole host of demands. Within the union we demanded a youth conference. We argued that young people had a right to be part of the union in an active way and not just be tolerated. We had the right as youngsters to be active in the union in the sense of being participants on the branch committee, even if it was only in the role of an observer. I am still of this opinion today. I think the sooner that this comes about in the whole of the movement, the better for our movement. Once you involve young people, then inevitably you will win them for progressive policies and for maximum participation.