One in the eye for the bosses when picketers produce a Royal edition

The weekend came and the weekend went.

The journalists in Basildon were still locked out by the Westminster Press Group management.

The printworkers were still refusing to return to work unless the lockout was ended and the journalists also allowed to return.

On that Monday morning in November, with the wedding of Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips just two days away, the only news being published was the news sheet being put out each day by the combined unions disputes group.

The news and sports journalists were out gathering news and the subs were editing it and getting as much of it as possible into a daily news sheet (always leaving a space for updates on the dispute).

The printworkers had found a local printers (a union shop of course) to print them off each evening and our pickets were dishing them out at the picket lines around Basildon, including in the town centre.

The message we were intent on getting through to local people, and advertisers, was that we were not the ones stopping the news being published in the Evening Echo and the weekly newspapers in the group, it was the WP management with their refusal to end the lockout.

We appeared to have got our message over within 24 hours as the people handing out the news sheets, we didn’t ask a single penny for them, were being given donations and told to put it towards whatever support was needed for the people involved in the dispute.

Even more, some small local businesses offered financial support with just an acknowledgment in the news sheet to say they were backing the journalists and printworkers. Every penny helped.

Each day an approach was made to management asking them to end the lockout and every day management refused. They did say that the printworkers could return at any time but they refused to return without us.

This summed up, for me, the true meaning of socialism and solidarity and gave me a completely different perspective on the people in other unions, especially the print unions.

We were still at this status quo on Wednesday, 14th November, 1973, when Princess Anne walked down the aisle at Westminster Abbey to marry Captain Mark Phillips.

Normally this would have been a big event in Basildon, especially for the Evening Echo which would have run a special souvenir edition on the day, with pages of pictures and stories about Anne going from a little girl with blonde curls, pictured on a savings stamp, to the bright young horsewoman who had captivated her cavalryman.

Late afternoon editions would have run stories about the event itself with pictures from London of the ceremony and the departure of the coupl,e from Westminster Abbey in a horse-drawn carriage.

All this would have attracted shedloads of advertising.

Unfortunately for the advertising department there was no Echo that day and therefore nothing to sell advertising space for.

Meanwhile, back on the streets, our pickets were having a great time with people making sure they had our disputes news sheet for the day which on the top half of page one carried a letter from those involved in the dispute with a great big black heading: DEAR ANNE

The letter went on to congratulate the princess on the occasion of her marriage and apologising for not being able to report on it in the way we would have wanted.

The background to the dispute was then outlined once again.

We printed more than double the daily news sheets that day, the lower half of the front and the whole of the other A3 side included news items and sports reports as usual.

They were all snapped up and not one person would take one without making a donation to dispute funds.

I believe that was the straw that broke the WP camel’s back.

Within days management were ready to talk to an NUJ official from London who came down to Basildon. Our print colleagues were quite prepared to allow management and the NUJ to sort out our lockout first after which they could agree to return to work.

Our official had the knowledge that the printworkers would not return to work until and unless the journalists were allowed to return.

Altogether the whole thing lasted about a fortnight (although after almost 50 years my memories of exact timings are a bit hazy), yet within a day or two it was as though nothing had ever happened.

This was probably because at the Standard Recorder offices we were far enough way from head office management to ensure that our relationship with our management, the editor Tony Blandford, had not really been damaged. At heart Tony was a journalist and I think that in that heart he had been backing us all the way.

It was my real initiation into the work of the unions and the power the workers could wield when necessary. It was not to be my last but the next round was still a few years away.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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