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:
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:-
Workers Revolutionary Party;
International Marxist Group;
Unemployed Workers Union;
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