obituary: jack sprung, 1922-2009

by Dave Spencer

Jack Sprung was one of those militant shop stewards who were a feature in The Commune’s uncaptive minds series of meetings on the 1970s. He was a steward for many years at the Standard Triumph plant in Coventry, part of British Leyland. He was also a political activist, as a member of the Coventry Workers Association, a breakaway from the Communist Party.

Jack always claimed that shop stewards were a step on the way to workers’ control of the workplace. He was a fan of Mike Cooley, the initiator of the “Lucas Workers’ Corporate Plan”. The Lucas workers were threatened with the closure of their factory and worked out a plan where their skills and the machinery at Lucas could be used to build 150 socially useful products like kidney dialysis machines and a road-rail bus. They published their plan in 1976.

Unfortunately the capitalists decided that the shop stewards movement was too strong and decided to destroy it. In 1976 Jack was victimised during a bitter dispute where, according to the local paper, the workers were actually running the factory. He went to College and became a tutor in Industrial Relations throughout the West Midlands.After retiring he became the General Secretary of the British Pensioners and Trade Union Activist Association (BPTUAA). He was a supporter of Coventry Radical Network and attended our meetings right up to his final illness. Continue reading “obituary: jack sprung, 1922-2009”

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photos of the last of our forums on 1970s class struggle

Last night (Monday 8th December) we held the last of our first series of “uncaptive minds” forums. The subject of the series was the 1970s class struggle, and we held meetings on struggles such as the Grunwick strike, the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders‘ occupation and the Leeds women clothing workers’ strike as well as discussing the organising methods of the time and focussing on debates in the movement such as the issue of workers’ control.

30 people attended the last of our seven fortnightly meetings, which was on the subject matter ‘Where did it all go?’. A few photos are featured below.

Liam comments: “earlier this evening I went along to a meeting organised by The Commune at which John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn very vividly brought to life politics and class struggle in the 1970s. John mentioned an example of a factory in his area in which the management removed the phone from the union office. The shop steward walked to the phone box at the end of the street and brought 250 workers with him. He got his phone back. Jeremy described his time as an organiser for NUPE when he would walk into school kitchens and recruit all the non members into the union. Contrast this to the contemporary situation. The young workers in my local branch of Woolworths yesterday were energetically recreating the 1974 Bulgarian retail experience. It hadn’t crossed their mind to strike, occupy the shop, hold a public meeting. Stoic acceptance that they were losing their jobs and the hope that something else would turn up seemed to be their attitude.”

A new series will begin in the New Year, looking at wider aspects of capitalism and the working class today. More information to follow shortly. Continue reading “photos of the last of our forums on 1970s class struggle”

changes to line-up for monday’s forum

PCS activist Christine Hulme has been added to the platform for Monday‘s ‘uncaptive minds’ forum on the 1970s class struggle. She will be leading off the discussion alongside John McDonnell MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP and RMT activist Steve Hedley.

Unfortunately, Joe Marino will now be unable to attend, for health reasons.

The meeting begins at 6:30pm on Monday 8th December. The venue is in central London – email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com or phone 07595 245494 to find out more details.

last week’s forum on the grunwick strike

Last Monday (24th November) we held an “uncaptive minds” forum on the 1976-77 Grunwick strike, where the film processing labs’ – largely Asian and female – workforce staged an arduous battle for union recognition, finding support from other workers, most notably postal workers who refused to deliver Grunwick’s mail and miners who amassed at the picket lines.

Pete Firmin from Brent Trades Council gave a talk and showed a film before a discussion on the lessons for today.

For a copy of the DVD shown – running time 1 hour 4 minutes, director Chris Thomas, produced by Brent Trades Union Council  – write to Brent TUC, 375 High Road, Willesden, London NW10 2JR. £10.00 including p&p.

the 1970s class struggle – where did it all go? forum, 8th december

The final meeting in our ‘uncaptive minds’ series on 1970s class struggle will be a forum on the lessons of the decade, what has changed in capitalism and where the workers’ movement has gone wrong. Drawing on the discussions at our previous six meetings, we will also look to tease out how we can apply this experience in our struggles today.

We have a panel of four speakers leading off the debate:

– John McDonnell MP

– Jeremy Corbyn MP

– Joe Marino, general secretary of the Bakers’, Foods and Allied Workers’ Union

– Steve Hedley, RMT London Underground regional secretary

There will be plenty of time for discussion and debate at the meeting, which kicks off at 6:30pm on Monday 8th December. The venue is in central London – email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com or phone 07595 245494 to find out more details.

‘uncaptive minds’ forum on the grunwick strike, 24th november

The next of our ‘uncaptive minds’ forums on class struggle in the 1970s will take place from 6:30pm on Monday 24th November.

The subject of the meeting will be the 1976-77 dispute at the Grunwick film processing labs in North West London. It was a strike mainly involving Asian women workers and which found solidarity from other trade unionists, notably posties who refused to deliver Grunwick’s mail.

We will be showing a new film about the strike, and Pete Firmin from Brent Trades Council will also be giving a talk.

The meeting will be held in central London – email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com to find out the venue.

films shown at last night’s meeting on the ucs occupation

The latest of our ‘uncaptive minds‘ forums on class struggle in the 1970s was held last night (Monday 10th November), featuring discussion of the 1971-72 work-in at the Upper Clydeside shipyards, occupied by the workforce in response to the mass redundancies threatened by the Tory government.

Chris Kane gave a talk outlining the dispute, with particular reference to the contradictory role of the Communist Party both in mobilising via its shop-stewards and in terms of keeping the struggle ‘respectable’ and wedded to the conservatism of the TUC leadership and Labour Party. Rather than attempting to spread the struggle and build solidarity with other workers and other shipyards, the leaders of the strike hoped to win over public opinion through continuing to work in a ‘disciplined’ fashion while the yards were occupied. Chris said this was in many ways parallel to the feeble Communist strategy in the west of Scotland during the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

The discussion amongst participants in the meeting raised several points relevant to today’s struggles, including rank-and-file control of disputes; the value of the occupation tactic and need to pose the question of ownership; and the need to find solidarity from other workers, particularly in an age of global capital where production can easily be moved around the world.

We also watched two films about the struggle, both produced by the activist film team of Cinema Action. They are available to watch online, but only in educational establishments and libraries. For the 1971 film UCS 1 click here, and for clips of the 1977 film Class struggle: film from the Clyde click here.

The next forum will take place on Monday 24th November, a film showing and discussion on the Grunwick strike, with Pete Firmin from Brent Trades Council. The venue is in central London: email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com for more info.