SPIES ON THE RUN
(1972) Narks at the NIRC
AMONG my favourite photographs of working class struggle is that of Vic Turner and his mates, the "Pentonville Five", being chaired in triumph by a crowd of fellow-trade unionists, with the banner of the London Docks Shop Stewards Committee and its slogan "Arise Ye Workers".
It was in July 1972, and the dockers who had been jailed for picketing had been released within a week by the intervention of the Official Solicitor, as thousands throughout the country staged strikes in solidarity and defence of union rights.
I have not been able to find a copy of the picture, although I see there's one on the leaflet for Saturday's meeting commemorating the Pentonville Five events, it won't reproduce unfortunately. They have also got Vic Turner himself due to speak at the meeting, which is at 2pm on Saturday July 28 at Congress House, Great Russel Street, WC1 (nearest tube Tottenham Court Road).
I have got another favourite picture from the same time, it's two private dicks in such a hurry that one had dropped his briefcase as they ran from the National Industrial Relations Court where they had given evidence against the dockers.
I think the one in front is Gary Murray. In his book Enemies of the State, published in 1993 he described how his agency Eurotech had used a derelict van parked the entrance to Midlands Cold Storage to keep the picketing dockers under surveillance and eavesdrop on their conversations. As a result the company spies were able to furnish the names of five alleged "ringleaders" to the court.
For the dockers the issue had been to prevent firms adopting containerisation from taking work away from registered (and organised) portworkers, and thus lowering wages. For Murray and his firm the surveillance came after a two-year project, "Big Red", infiltrating agents into workplaces and trade unions to enlist informers and establish long-term snooping on trade unionists. He denies suggestions linking him with Special Branch. But serving summonses and then appearing to give evidence in court endangered the more ambitious project. He was allowed to give evidence in camera and leave by a side entrance. Being caught on camera was defitely not part of the plan!
The photo of the running men first appeared in Workers Press, though I have taken this copy from The Political Police in Britain by Tony Bunyan (1976). I have spoken to the photographer who got this scoop and heard how he got it. He is freelance now, but still doing a lot of work for the labour movement.
Be good if he can make Saturday's meeting.
SATURDAY 28 JULY 14.00 TO 17.00
PENTONVILLE 5 COMMEMORATION MEETING
Steve Hart - regional secretary TGWU No1 /Unite
Ann Field -national officer Amicus/Unite
Vic Turner - one of the Pentonville Five
chair Martin Gould -South East region TUC
At TUC, Congress House, Great Russel Street, London WC1
(nearest tube Tottenham Court Road