Union memories

I joined the civil service as a clerical assistant in August 1967, the Registry of Seamen and Shipping in Llandaff (which is now a housing estate) and joined the Civil Service Clerical Association (CSCA) in 1969. I was immediately asked to assist the local committee in various roles. In 1970 I was promoted to clerical officer and moved to the board of trade offices in Gabalfa where I remained active in the union, then CPSA. In the mid-70s we became part of the Welsh Office. I recall a trip to London with a team led by the office manager, Pam Denning, for a presentation on open-plan working and to see the plans and model for the new Crown building in Cathays Park.

In 1976, I moved to transport and highways division in Graham Buildings, on promotion to executive officer, where I joined the Society of Civil Servants, which eventually became PCS. I remained active and eventually was elected Welsh Office branch chair, alternating as vice chair for a number of years.

I also participated in a number of strikes (usually about pay), particularly in the late 70s and 80s; the Thatcher years. I spent many a day on picket lines, usually in the rain, in Llanishen and Cathays Park. The turnout in those days was quite good (so it seemed) compared to today. In most instances people were reasonable, taking the time for calm discussions about the various issues. Feelings could however run high, pickets were accused of being too aggressive and those crossing lines were equally robust, on more than one occasion driving cars at pickets.

Some of the topics I was involved in developing were flexitime, banning smoking (sorry if you are one of those standing outside in all weathers) and of course pay negotiations, some more successful than others.

In the 70s, 80s and 90s the Welsh Office continued to expand. When it became responsible for agriculture we had offices all over Wales. As a result we held meetings across Wales travelling to Ruthin, Llandrindod Wells, Caernarfon, Carmarthen and Aberystwyth. The conditions of service were different in many respects to WO and our main task was ensuring rights were preserved. We were usually away for two days; the mornings of the second day were often quite painful due to self-inflicted hangovers.

Then there were national conferences, usually in Blackpool or Bournemouth, a heady mix of policy and politics, both domestic and international. There were speakers, for example, informing us about apartheid struggles in South Africa and how to support those affected by staff cuts that were being unfairly treated. I inevitably came home mentally exhausted from the events of the day and being “overly refreshed” at night.

I stopped being an activist in the late 90s having thoroughly enjoyed my time in the thick of it. I would strongly recommend it to anyone thinking about getting actively involved, it is rewarding, satisfying and enjoyable

Tony Joss

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