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The McWhirters v. the unions (1974)

Ross & Norris McWhiter, founders of Guinness Book of Records

In the 1970s a phalanx of right-leaning protests groups emerged in Britain antagonistic to the trade unions and overwhelmingly drawn from Conservative voters. The Current Affairs Press was set-up by Ross McWhirter in 1974 with the ‘express purpose of fighting the unions.'  A flyer by McWhirter entitled Standing up to the Unions, reveals working capital of £100,000 and their ability to print three million newspapers a day in the event of a national printers strike. It also describes operation ‘Roadlift’, designed to take effect in the event of a national rail strike. In an experiment in Brighton, two hundred car owners offered 700 seats for more than one thousand commuters who applied for transport facilities. The Current Affairs Press, though officially non-partisan, pledged its support to the new leader of the Opposition: ‘Mrs Margaret Thatcher deserves, and must be given full support not only of the Conservative party but of anti-socialists everywhere.'

Out of it grew The National Association for Freedom (NAFF) possibly the most successful anti-trade union campaign group, attracting some 20,000 members within a year. The flyer, like much political ephemera, is oddly rare but we were sent one by an offshore jotwatcher (PDJ) who found a perfect example in between the pages of an antiquarian atlas. This was a sort of British Tea Party avant la lettre-- the difference with the later American group being that the Roadlift crowd would have  actually drunk tea…

TIME TO STAND UP TO THE UNIONS
Self–Help Can Beat The Tyranny That Is Ruining Us

  The reason why the unions are riding rough shod over the rest of us is because they are organised and the rest of us, which is more than 80% of the public, are not.
  Since the Government is powerless to do anything about the many abuses of trade union power because they are nothing more than the political end of the union movement, we are destined to go on suffering hardship and inconvenience until WE, the people, do something ourselves.

  In the last three months an organisation has come into being for the express purpose of standing up to the unions.
  The movement began when a group of people, for whom I am the spokesman, met to discuss what can be done to avert the crisis towards which our country is now hurtling, and against which there appears at present to be no counteraction of any kind.

  The group included economists and businessmen, bankers, members of the legal and accountancy professions, politicians, other men and women active in public life and several (enforced) trade unionists.
  They agreed unanimously that the overmightiness of the Trade Unions is the gravest of all menaces to the well-being of Great Britain.

  The fact must be faced that the Trade Unions are now in virtual control of the country. They dominate industry as well as Government, and have the power to bring both to a stop any time they may wish.
  In fact, a trade union leader has boasted that the unions can bring the life of the whole country to a stand-still in a matter of minutes simply by cutting off the electricity supplies over which they have absolute practical–but not lawful statutory–control.
  Members of the group agreed that the position had become intolerable and that if nobody else would do anything they would.
  A plan was worked out. If a stand was to be made obviously the first thing to do was to obtain the means of maintaining national communication whatever the trade unions might do. This could only be done by controlling a printing plant capable of producing newspapers by the million, and by the production of a newspaper the publication of which could not be stopped by trade union action–the only independent newspaper in Great Britain.

  We found a printing works within a hundred miles of London admirable for this purpose and on March 12 we launched a mailing appeal which has been amazingly successful.
  We now own the premises and the rotary newspaper printing plant it contains. Generators have been installed making it independent of the electrical unions. Stocks of paper, ink and oil have been laid in. We have traced the whereabouts of sufficient master printers, totally independent of union control, capable of running a newspaper works, and have assured ourselves of their cooperation.
  We are, in fact, now in a position to print and distribute from over a hundred already organised centres throughout the country over 3,000,000 copies of a newspaper every day should there be a strike or lockout of the national press and shortly we hope to be in a position to publish our own regular newspaper.

  A fortnight ago we decided that the threatened rail strike gave us an opportunity of carrying out a pretty thorough test of public opinion. We wanted to know if the people are willing to back a Movement organised to stand up to the unions.
  We took a full-page advertisement in the Brighton Argus, one of the most famous local evening papers in the country. In it we explained our beliefs and reported why and how we had established an independent printing works. We went on:

  We now think something should be done about the threatened rail strike and a complete scheme has been worked out which we are putting before the public in this announcement in the Brighton Argus.
  "If the response shows that the British public is prepared to cooperate in running the campaign we propose, and is willing to give it financial backing, this page advertisement will be repeated in other newspapers throughout the country.
  "This is the plan:

  1. Members of the public let us know what traveling they want to do during the period of the strike by returning one or both of the two top Forms on the right-hand side of the page.
  2. Car owners use the third Form to let us know how they can cooperate.
  3. The fourth Form is for those who do not wish to travel but will make a donation towards the expenses of the campaign and particularly the heavy costs of putting this advertisement in other newspapers.
  4. We use the organisation already in being for distributing the Emergency newspaper to set up Clearing Centres throughout the country which will use the cars we are offered by the public, and couches and private buses, to carry those who ask us for transport facilities. For example, we visualise a small fleet of coaches leaving Brighton each morning for the City and West End filled with regular commuters.
  5. The scheme is non-profit making. Charges, which will be payable on joining the vehicle, will be kept to a minimum and will include comprehensive insurance cover for drivers and passengers.
  "That is it. A simple scheme which can easily be organised and easily carried out, even on a huge scale, if the public will cooperate. If they do and the N.U.R. sees the plan spreading from Brighton to other centres it may well influence them in their final decision whether to strike or not."

  Brighton's answer was a resounding Yes. This is what happened:

  1. More than a thousand commuteres and other travellers asked for transport facilities.
  2. Car owners offered the use of more than seven hundred seats.
  3. Nearly two hundred people offered voluntary help.
  4. Sufficient funds were received to pay for the page advertisement (£325) and contribute towards the half-page we took in The Guardian on June 19.

  If the rail strike had started a Brighton-based and run organisation would have sprung into being. The travelers and the car owners would have been married up and coaches ferried over from France would have made up the seats required. (All the coaches and buses in the South of England had been booked up long ago under retainer schemes).

  Brighton has shown the way. Within the next few weeks we shall consolidate the local situation so that no commuter or traveller need worry any longer if those who operate the Brighton – Victoria Line go on strike. Operation Roadlift will immediately swing into action, each commuter having telephone numbers he can ring for transport. By the time of the next crisis we also intend to possess our own coaches.
  As soon as the plan is complete we will announce it publicly and Brighton railway workers can then put it to the test if they wish.

  Now the plan must be repeated in nearly four hundred centres throughout the land if we are to become really effective and make future threats of rail strikes completely futile.
  A series of advertisements explaining the plan and asking for co-operation are being arranged in a number of large towns with their own newspapers.
  The result of this advertisement campaign should lead to the rapid co-operation of like-minded people in every centre throughout the country so that self-help can become a reality whenever the trade unions set out to disrupt our lives. What we cannot do as individuals we can do collectively.

  Let us make one other point, perhaps the most vital of all.
  The main cause of inflation and Britain's financial difficulties is that trade union restrictive practices, maintained by intimidation, mean that nearly all goods and services cost up to a third more than they should.
  Overmanning in industry is nothing less than extortion by the trades unions. "The Observer" said in a leading article on June 22: "The only course open to us was to ask for reductions of our work-force by one-third". They said they are currently paying 1,200 full and part-time salaries every week to produce the paper. In other words they are being blackmailed into paying 400 people they do not want or need to employ.
  The outrageous thing is that they are not free to employ the number of people they consider necessary to do the job. The employer should have the absolute right to employ just as many people as he thinks fit, and for just as long as he things fit, and nobody else should have any say in the matter.

  Kill the wage extortion produced by restrictive practises and Britain would soon be on her financial feet again, and hyper-inflation would be a thing of the past.
  We know the Government dare not touch restrictive practices. The Conservatives failed to do so when they were in office. Only pressure of public opinion can bring about this vital reform. Public opinion has to be organised. That is the next task to which we must turn out attention.

  If you agree with us about all these matters it means you are one of the hitherto silent majority. If all of us in that category give what financial and voluntary help we can afford it will not take very long to transform the whole situation in this England of ours, which at the moment is in such dire danger.
  So if you are with us fill in the following Form and return it as soon as possible.

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