Marches, strikes and occupations.Trade Union and Political Action In South Tyneside and South Shields in the 60s and 70's.
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Click me for more information.South Shields is a medium sized, northern, industrial town at the mouth of the Tyne, with a population of around 100,000. Its main industries, shipyards, seafaring, mining and other heavy industry are now largely gone. It is bounded on one side by the Tyne and another by the North Sea and it has a strong sense of local community. The town's unemployment rate in the late 60s was around 12% - the rate has usually been about twice the national average.

The South Shields Trades Council was formed in 1872 - one of the first in the country. From around 1900 it co-operated in various ways with the Labour movement and in 1919 it formed a joint organisation with the constituency Labour Party.

In 1970, the Trades Council separated from the Labour Party, in accordance with the official Trades Union Congress (TUC) and Labour Party policy, to become the South Shields Trades Union Council (SSTUC). The separation was not without reservations (and recriminations) - even though this was one of the last organisations in England to split in this way.

The first President (Chair) of the Trades Union Council was Jim Florence, an ex-Labour Councillor and experienced trade unionist. He gave early gravitas and credibility to the Council.

The SSTUC was affiliated to the national TUC and as such was the TUC's official local representative, dealing with matters of joint trade union interest in the area.

In 1970, the SSTUC consisted of:

• 89 affiliated trade union branches, sending
• 140 delegates, representing some
• 10,000 local trade unionists.

The affiliated unions ranged from unskilled manual workers to professional 'white-collar' workers. The national TUC reluctantly accepted a SSTUC constitution which allowed affiliated 'observer' status to:

• Pensioners Groups;
• Students Unions;
• Shop Stewards;
• Unemployed;
• Social Security Claimants.

By far the most influential of this group was the South Shields Claimants' Union (SSCU). This was part of a loose national federation of Claimants Unions (CUs), based in some 80 major conurbations, and run by and for social security claimants on a unique open democratic basis (but that is another story!).

The SSTUC met monthly with an average attendance of around 50 delegates. Sub-committees were set up on an ad-hoc basis to deal with individual issues, and it was these sub-committees which initiated and promoted the various campaigns and projects.

Significantly, the sub-committee structure allowed for the co-option of a range of activists from the 'observer' groups. These activists included members from a spectrum of political organisations, predominantly Labour Party (and Labour Party Young Socialists), but including self-proclaimed international revolutionaries:-

• Communist Party;
• Workers Revolutionary Party;
• International Marxist Group;
• Unemployed Workers Union;
• International Socialists.

It is interesting that these notoriously warring factions were prepared to sink their ideological differences in favour of (what one member described as) the ‘dynamic of existential action’

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Website Updated July 2005