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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Unemployment, Strikes & Occupations

click for more info.The fight to preserve traditional industries such as mining and shipbuilding was expressed by calls to union branches for direct action in the form of strikes and occupations. The call for a Tyneside general strike to save Palmers shipyard was typical of these events. What all these actions had in common was that, for the most part, they were carried out without official national support and often in the face of establishment opposition. What they also had in common was that, at least in the long term, they failed.

What they might have achieved with the active support of the official Labour movement remains problematic. We would have to wait until the 1974 Miners' Strike when direct action by the miners, supported by virtually the whole Labour movement, showed it could change governments - if not the fate of the mining industry.

An important campaign by the South Shields Trades Union Council was its fight for alternatives to unemployment in the form of paid training and/or education. The SSTUC won the right of claimants of unemployment and/or social security supplementary benefits to attend college.

Colleges soon learned to develop courses, especially designed for unemployed young people on benefit, and in these can be seen the genesis of the government's Youth Opportunity Programme Scheme (YOPS) followed by the Youth Training Scheme (YTS), (see 'Students and School Leavers).

The arguments deployed by the SSTUC at that time concerning the treatment of the unemployed continues to affect the political agenda and are manifest in the current government's 'New Deal' scheme for the young unemployed.

The South Shields Trades Union Council supported many local and national strikes, official and unofficial. They used the conventional means - demonstrations, petitions, and expressions of solidarity - but also took some more direct action. This included the establishment of joint SSTUC~trade union strike committees - the 'Strike Liaison Committees'; and the establishment of 'Strikes Claims Committees' in conjunction with the Claimants' Union.

These actions involved the SSTUC in some unexpected situations.

In November 1972 women workers at Barbours clothing factory took strike action for a pay rise and union recognition. Strikers were encouraged by the SSTUC to make a claim for social security payments under the 'urgent need' provision of the 1966 Act.

In the event the women were refused claim forms by the Department of Health and Social Security clerks at Wouldhave House, the local DHSS offices. The strikers refused to leave the offices until their right to make a claim was recognised and in the ensuing mêlée the DHSS manager called in the police. The Claimants Union invited the police to arrest the DHSS manager for breaching the 1966 Social Security Act. They didn't.

Subsequently the DHSS was to admit that it was wrong not to have allowed a claim to be made. The SSTUC accused the police of aiding and abetting a breach of the law - a nice legal point, still unresolved.

The Barbour workers finally won both their pay rise and union recognition (TGWU).

The 1970 Council cleaners strike was supported by the SSTUC by the novel tactic of urging the public to withhold that part of their rates accountable to public cleaning.

The SSTUC sought legal redress from the town council for ‘breach of contract’ in failing to provide cleaning services and the action ended up in Durham Court of Quarters Sessions under the reputed hard man Judge Alastair Sharp. The legal action failed (as could be expected) but the learned judge alarmed the SSTUC members by calling them 'village Hampdens' (in a reference to Gray's Elegy):-

‘The court means no disrespect to these men in calling them ‘village Hampdens’’. They are standing up for the rights of the citizen. They have the courage to come to the Court of Quarter Sessions with their grievances.’

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