Alf Parish died recently. Many trade unionists and friends were at his funeral to bid farewell to a legendary print union official. Here is a tribute to Alf by three comrades who worked with him – George Jerrom and Ann Field former GPMU National Officers and John Foster, former General Secretary of the NUJ.
“ALF PARISH: ‘trade unionist and political activist’ – a simple phrase that disguises a lifetime of involvement and achievement. A South London boy destined for the print industry – as so many were.
He served his apprenticeship in one of the more exclusive sectors of print – as a line etcher and joined the Society of Lithographic Artists Designers and Engravers (SLADE) – a union with an influential negotiating position in the industry that was the envy of the others.
But something else was important; SLADE historically was led by people who had a political understanding beyond the day to day wage negotiating. Alf served two apprenticeships: one as a craftsman and the second, understanding the politics of life and the joining of the two. In turn, the future NUJ General Secretary John Foster served his “trade union official apprenticeship” with Alf, the two men working together representing SLADE members with Alf as the official and John as the NEC member.
Alf was a principled negotiator who delivered, raising the level of his members’ wages and conditions, but at the same time recognising the political climate within society.
Marryingthose two elements was Alf’s guiding principle. His industrial record stands for itself, but he was also a supporter of one union for print showing principle with not only an industrial decision but also a political one. When he could have become General Secretary of his own union he supported amalgamation and became National Secretary of the National Graphical Association, and then the Graphical Paper and Media Union.
After amalgamation with the NGA in 1982 Alf Parish’s remit steadily expanded. He fought and challenged many – the Robert Maxwell, the Rupert Murdoch, the Lord Rothermere and others. His knowledge of all things newspapers was never bettered and he led the unionthrough many difficult struggles.
His many responsibilities included confronting the Tory Government’s privatization of HMSO, steering workers and union officials alike through a quagmire of threats to employment, changing terms and conditions, and removal of civil service procedures and protection.
His own area of the Litho House Agreement Policy was hit by massive change. The retention of the Policy for longer than anyone thought possible and the terms that survived afterwards, were largely due to Alf’s care and attention, and his support of the members.
An example of his commitment to international struggles was Alf’s concern to honour the memory of SLADE members’ contributions which enabled an ambulance to be sent to the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. The plaque from that ambulance was part of the memorabilia that SLADE brought to the GPMU and which Alf was most keen to keep an eye on.
Alf had been a leading and active member of the TUC Printing Industries Committee on behalf of the union and after retirement in 1996 he never ceased activity. His reputation and standing as a man of principle and integrity as well as great knowledge and negotiating skill meant his assistance was sought by other trade unions and labour movement organizations including helping to resolve impossibly fractious internal conflicts.
He became an independent referee on the NUJ appointments committee. He continued to be associated with the struggle for union recognition with the formation of the Press forUnion Rights Campaign. With other trade unionists in the industry Alf was heavily involved the campaign around the country which eventually resulted in the union rights case against the Daily Mail by NUJ member David Wilson being upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.
He was active in the retired members and pensioners movement. His trips toBlackpool with George Jerrom that consisted of a beer now and then maintained what Alf was all about – fighting for working people at every level. He became a member of the Executive of the National Pensioners Convention, and will be sorely missed by the Unite GPM sector Retired Members Association
Widely respected, he generated affection as well admiration for his knowledge and his judgement, all delivered with great good humour except for those odd occasions when Alf’s acid wit could be so usefully deployed to sweep aside aggression or stupidity.
His death is a loss to our movement but his memory will remain in his achievements over many years to come, and in the hearts and memories of his many comrades, friends and colleagues in the trade union and labour movement.”