Friday, 4 October 2013

Micky Fenn - trade unionist and anti-fascist

Part of the Rebel Road series at Unite education. It was a privilege to have met Micky Fenn. 

Micky Fenn (11-01-1938 – 28-7-1996)
Michael Fenn was one of the most influential trade union and anti-fascist activists of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. At an early age, Micky was heavily influenced by his experiences on National Service in the Middle East during the Suez crisis where Britain wrongly entered the war on Israel’s side. He remained an anti-imperialist for the rest of his life.
When Micky became a docker in 1965 he joined the ‘blue’ union, the National Association of Stevedores and Dockers (NASD), which, unlike the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), allowed Communists to be members. Consequently, Jack Dash -a Communist Party of Great Britain member - who was heavily vilified by the conservative press in the same manner as Arthur Scargill heavily influenced Micky.
Dash and Fenn were key participants in the founding of the unofficial National Port Shop Stewards movement that united NASD and TGWU dockers in 1967. The following year when dockers at Tilbury marched out in support of Enoch Powell’s inflammatory speech that demanded a ban on black immigration, Micky was one of the few shop stewards (workplace representative) to speak out. He later described it as “the worst day of my life.”
In 1972, Micky was one of the London dockers’ leaders that led industrial action when five shop stewards were imprisoned in July for refusing to obey a court order to stop picketing an East London container depot. The Edward Heath government totally misjudged what would happen next. Although many workers were on holiday, hundreds of thousands of workers took unofficial action and with many more set to join the dispute the Trades Union Congress announced a date for a General Strike. This never took place as within a week the five were released. Micky was particularly involved in picketing out Fleet Street, where most national newspapers were printed at the time.
Micky said afterwards: “It wasn’t really a dockers’ victory, but a victory for the trade union movement.”
The following year, Micky left the Communist Party and joined the International Socialists (which would later become the SWP) and where he became heavily involved in the Anti-Nazi League but soon began a series of clashes with the leadership over the need to physically confront the fascists. This was to eventually lead to him quitting the ANL and he later become involved with Anti-Fascist Action. Micky’s politics on this were described by him in a BBC Open Space programme in 1992 and which is available online
In 1982 the NASD and TGWU merged and by which time Micky was working at Tilbury docks and where he was a leading steward. In 1989 when Thatcher abolished the National Docks Labour Scheme – designed to eliminate casual dock labour – Micky was one of many dockers who organised 11-days of unofficial strike action. He was devastated when he discovered that many ports had already surrendered and in the aftermath he was one of 152 Tilbury dockers sacked. Three years in industrial tribunals produced a successful outcome but rather than get their jobs back the men were awarded compensation. Micky did not work again, but remained active and was the chair of the London support group for the sacked Liverpool dockers in the mid 1990s. The plaque in the CASA club in Liverpool is therefore a fitting tribute to a great man who died at aged 58.

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