Through the early to mid 1980s Margaret Thatcher waged a vindictive and unrelenting war against the Labour movement in general and specifically the Metropolitan County Councils. Her nemesis was Ken Livingstone the ultimate “left” Leader of the G.L.C. at County Hall on the south bank of the Thames.
My socialist leanings had been developed throughout the 1960s when I first joined Hackney Councils 2000 workforce direct Labour Organisations craft unions. First as the plumbers shop steward then later representing the entire workforce as Convenor steward. However, as the fates would have it, after becoming the foreman plumber I was obliged to leave the craft side of the unions and join management. Within weeks I was approached to join NALGO (the National Association of Local Government Officers. Hackney at that time could best be described as a cauldron of political activists and although I was in there mostly shoulder to shoulder with the Communists, there were also many other groups determined to keep their particular agendas in poll position both within the Council and their own membership.
I became more and more high profile in demos and marches sharing the cumbersome task of leading the Hackney NALGO banner whether it was for post office workers rights, the nurses dispute, or welcoming delegations from pit villages during the miners strike. The Thatcher government either tried to starve them into surrender or used her private army of police to beat them into submission.
I have to say that most of the London Boroughs (well the deprived inner Boroughs anyway) were quite tolerant of unionised workers, allowing substantial time off for meetings etc. John Cotz was the Leader of Hackney Council at the time when Thatcher announced the proposed closure of the GLC and that the London Boroughs would be expected to absorb the buildings and workers that traditionally worked for the GLC. Word came through to the NALGO office that many of the London Boroughs wanted to fight Thatcher’s plans and would all join together to share ideas and resources in forming what became known as “The London Bridge campaign”. As the Boroughs intended to cooperate more closely, it was decided that each branch of NALGO in each Borough would elect a collective spokesperson to represent NALGO at the London Bridge meetings and feed back decisions to the respective branch meetings.
After a lot of consultation between the branches it was eventually decided that I would be the NALGO representative at the meetings. Armed with the date, time and room number of the meeting and with some trepidation I climbed the stone stairs that led to big impressive pillared portico of County Hall. In trying to find the room, I was absolutely amazed at the endless corridors that seemed to stretch forever.
Having eventually found the right room I introduced myself to Bernie Grant (leader, Haringey Council), Margaret Hodge (Leader, Islington Council, Linda Belloss (Leader, Lambeth Council) and any number of chief or very senior officers.
Unfortunately, it was quickly apparent that the leaders were as equally suspicious of each other as the union factions were and this made progress very challenging.