1980s >> 1988 >> no-1003-march-1988

A day out in Cheltenham

An active member of the largest trade union in the country, I was recently asked by a colleague if I would attend a march and rally in support of trade union rights at GCHQ Cheltenham. The event was on our doorstep and it would look bad if so large a trade union did not attend the event.

I agreed to go only to find, on the day itself, just three of us there to show the district banner. But even that was not to be — not because we were unwilling but because our District Secretary would not release the banner for the day in case it got dirty or damaged. So the banner remained decorating the wall of his office.

We arrived early for the demonstration. It was bitterly cold and raining. The meeting place was the Pump Room, a huge building set in a park. After buying coffee from the refreshment stall we decided that shelter was needed and that everyone present must be a bit mad to be milling around outside the Pump Room instead of inside. At one end of the building we found double doors with the notice General Council Members Only. So we went around to the other end of the building only to find the same notice. So we went in.

The TUC steward challenged us, then reluctantly agreed to our staying in the building since it was so cold outside. When we had stopped shivering we had a look around at the columns, arches, chandeliers, a decorated ceiling — and then we spotted the bar. We all immediately felt better for arriving early. However we were told that the bar was for providing free drinks for the General Council. Of course there was no need to worry about drinking and driving since they had luxury coach transportation. We left the building in disgust and braved the elements between the Pump Room and the nearest pub.

When we returned the march had just started. There were bands playing, hundreds of trade union banners and many thousands of dedicated trade unionists from all over the country. We spotted one of our banners from the largest union in the country and marched behind it. This district had gathered much more support — at least six people were present before we joined them.

We stayed with the march until it reached the town centre. By now, none of us were interested in attending the rally and listening to the hypocritical bleatings of the leader of the General Council of the TUC. So we sneaked off to a pub and then went home. For trade unionists it was not an inspiring day.

Mike Tavener