At the end of WW2 my dad was demobbed from the army after nearly five years of service. Finishing up as a sergeant he was offered the chance of a commission if he stayed but, like most men of his time he’d had enough of military life and chose to return to civvie street.
Before the war he had worked in a grocer’s shop but, instead of returning to slicing bacon he decided to get a job on the buses working for London Transport. After a brief spell as a conductor he finally qualified as a driver, operating mainly from garages in South London.
London Transport was a closed shop which meant that drivers and conductors had to be members of the powerful Transport and General Workers Union – the TGWU. He’d never been in a union before so began to attend meetings in the garage.
The first thing that puzzled him was the size of the meetings. In a garage that employed several hundred staff attendance rarely went above a dozen – including the three officials who chaired the meeting. As a new boy he kept quiet for a while until at one meeting most of the agenda was taken up with a motion congratulating the Communist governments of Poland and Hungary for their success in establishing a true workers democracy.
Seeing that those governments were really just puppet regimes imposed by the occupying Russian armies my dad not only voted against the motion but voiced his concern that the meeting was claiming to be the voice of several hundred when in fact only a handful ever intended.
He was immediately marked out as a troublemaker. He found himself placed on awkward shifts and the most difficult routes by a management that was intimidated by the union. He stopped going to union meetings and began to resent the weekly event on pay day when staff had to line up at the union table to pay their compulsory dues. Being short of temper and not easily intimidated he used to throw the money onto the table and declare, in a loud voice “ Here’s your blood money”
Things came to a head when the TGWU called a 24 hour bus strike to start at noon on a certain day. Dad’s bus was about ten minutes from the garage when his conductor rang the bell and told the passengers to get off. Several of them started arguing, pointing out they had already paid the fare to the end of the route.
Dad got out of his cab to find out what was going on. When the conductor said she was pitching the passengers off because it was time for the strike to start my dad told them to stay and he would finish the route. When they reached the garage all the passengers got off and came round to shake his hand.
Nothing more was said that day but, when the strike was over and dad went to collect his bike at the end of his shift to cycle home he discovered about half a dozen people around his bike which was on the floor, bent and broken. One of the union men, scarcely able to suppress a grin said that it had been “accidently” run over by a bus being moved around the garage.
Since his was the only bike damaged and it was in an area where buses didn’t usually turn he quickly got the picture. It was a punishment for breaking union solidarity.
He didn’t say anything, just left and carried the bike home.
At the beginning of his next shift he arrived early and went to the union office and found the TGWU rep. “About my bike” he said and seized the man by the arms and pushed him up against the wall
“Each time any little “accident” happens again” he said “I’ll come round and punch you on the nose”
At the end of his shift he fully expected to be hauled in by the boss and/or the police but nothing happened and, oddly enough, there never were any more “accidents”……