Oxford – and trade unions

Dreaming spires and beautiful old colleges and all that.

Actually I was staying at the rather more modern but extremely well kitted-out Ruskin College. The hot-bed of trade unionism.

I was spending a week there on a ‘Basic Trade Unionism’ course run by the TUC (Trades Union Congress).

Everyone at my local branch of the NUJ invariably seemed to be going somewhere on a jolly so I figured it was my turn.

There was a bit of a pause when it was raised on the agenda, but as I had got a right-on lefty to introduce it, I got the funding.

I was a bit surprised back in the days of joining the NUJ to discover that the three most lefty unions in the UK at the time were teachers, (NUT), journos (NUJ), and miners (NUM). OK, that last one wasn’t a surprise. But I thought teachers and journos were educated thinking people so why on earth were they left wing? I worked out the answer many years later. (Clue – they were thinking and educated).

At our branch meetings of the NUJ we funded every workers’ revolutionary party under the sun. The Workers Struggling in El Salvador. The People Against Oppression in Chile. Tin Miners in Bolivia. Street Urchins in San Paolo. We probably funded the KGB and the Tooting Popular Front for all I know. If it was left wing and wanted donations we gave them. I didn’t dare argue.

These meetings were always a revelation. The industrial correspondent for the local extremely Tory paper was a card-carrying communist. Eeek!! Sometimes I even had to sit next to him at our branch meetings. I don’t think he liked me.

So I embarked on my trip to Oxford with interest. The rooms at Ruskin were superb. This wasn’t like my poky little room at Liverpool. This was a well-furnished, beautiful bedroom with a private bathroom, all worthy of a hotel.

There were a lot of miners (there’s a surprise – UK, not Bolivian, although my branch would no doubt have funded Bolivians) on the course, no teachers, me, and a couple of local government officials. I wasn’t sufficiently lefty and was treated with suspicion.

Probably because one of the first lectures was about nasty capitalist bosses who were always in conflict with the workers because our needs and wants were essentially contrary. We were being exploited by those wicked owners who just wanted to make money out of us.

‘Excuse me,’ I piped up. ‘Aren’t we being paid to do a job?’ It was all very black and white to me back then. A bit like newspapers. Can’t remember if I dug myself into a hole by saying how grateful I was to have a job (start of a recessionary period and high unemployment for graduates in the UK) and how I would do anything for my piffling wage.

It wasn’t the best week of my life, I ended up with a sprained ankle too, and got the train home numbing the pain with far too many gin and tonics.

But before that, I did take some photos of beautiful Oxford. No idea which college this is. It’s not Ruskin though!

Photo taken in September 1982.

Cranky DT note. I thought a soft frame may work better using soft edge and picking up the shade of the stone. DT thought differently and promptly changed the background to grey πŸ˜€


13 comments on “Oxford – and trade unions”

  1. I’ve never been to Oxford. It will have to be somewhere on my retirement agenda, as the buildings really are beautiful (seen from tv program Inspector Morse).


    • I found the city pretty soulless and cold, truth be told, although the colleges were nice. But also cold. I far prefer Cambridge. Much smaller, not built up the same way, and similarly beautiful buildings – so if you are choosing between the two… although I guess Oxford is nearer πŸ˜€

      Can you imagine studying in surroundings like that? My university buildings for lessons were nice – but not a patch on that. Oh to be rich and English (or Saudi, or from anywhere with money….)


  2. I used to be the social secretary for the local branch of NALGO (UNISON) but that was more about organising Christmas Parties and cricket matches than political activism.


  3. Yes, I remember that now – a good line!


  4. Oxford sounds like a fascinating place to visit. there is a police procedural series – can’t remember what it is called – based in Oxford. maybe some day.
    my activism? probably the most memorable moment (which lasted about four and a half months) was while out on the picket line. quite an experience that was. may post about that one day.
    the frame is great – it highlights the dark features of the image. good that you were able to outsmart DT πŸ™‚
    and that’s it from me for tonight. have a great day!


    • Morse. Vicky mentioned it. There probably isn’t anyone in the UK who hasn’t seen it πŸ˜€

      Uf, picket lines don’t really fit with your blog!!

      I went for the thin dark green frame first, going for a darker shade of the grass. I thought stone coloured would be too samey. Then I thought it might be a nice soft effect and tried it – only to get boring old grey. Quickly retrieved dark green πŸ˜€

      sleep well.


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