"Everybody Out"

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Wayne Rooney and I share something in common: not the football team he supported as a child (Everton) - and certainly not the one he plays for now - but the school he attended, Gillmoss School in Croxteth, Liverpool.

It was a great school, as I recall. It was also the location of my first introduction to politics.

Mr Semple, our teacher, would roar about most things to us ten year olds, and when you had done something bad you would be whacked with a ruler on the back of your hand or cane on your backside.

The fact that it was permissible in those supposedly enlightened times for grown men and women to hit children for misbehaviour seems incredible now.

Yet it is within the living memory of people of my generation. Traditional values in a 1960s setting, as it were. Talking too much, giggling or poor work were all grounds for the stick.

But the things that upset Semple the most were what he could do the least about. He fulminated, got red in the face and shouted a lot. "You, boy, get out!" was his catch phrase. It seemed he never tired of that one.

The one group he rallied against most were communists - "communists who are holding the country to ransom" - particularly "dockers, who are all communists". At that time there were at least 20,000 dockers on Merseyside.

My friend Ian Greasly's dad was a docker, which made me a bit suspicious of him, especially as they had lots of books in their flat.

Semple terrified our class with tales of communist plots and intrigue. "Why did they put a man into space?", "Why did they want to go to the moon?", "Why so many strikes on the docks?" He also answered his questions: "The commies need to spy, to plot to take over our country. Instead of being run by London we would be run by Moscow."

It followed, therefore, that anyone who went on strike could not be trusted, as the real intention behind staying off work was concealed.

The Rag Trade was a popular television comedy in the 1960s. It depicted life in a clothing factory where the women who made the clothes fought in each episode to outwit the management over this or that problem.

The foreman and the manager each week ended up being thwarted in their attempts to make their workers work hard for less.

The catchphrase for the series used by Paddy, the shop steward, was "everybody out", at which point the hapless management would concede to all the points raised by the union after she had quoted them the rule book.

The series was a top rated television show and incredibly popular, with millions of people tuning in to watch.

I recently bought a DVD of the series and reflected on my schooldays and the popularity of the show in the 1960s.

While those in authority were castigating workers for being too greedy or politically motivated, from the school room to the board room, workers themselves were celebrating their strength through it being reflected in popular culture.

How different now, for while there has been a limited resurgence in trade union strength, not one single show on our television screens reflects the re-emergence of trade unionism.

The impact of individualism, which is the life of most media types, is depicted in the television world. Most programmes on the television are about getting on by yourself, whether that be by improving your garden, better cooking, house buying or answering questions about facts or numbers.

Recently, the strike by 200,000 civil servants hardly merited a mention on the news.

How many shows are there about where most of us spend our time-work?

The current most popular television show about the world at work, The Apprentice, is full of tough talk about the bottom line-money. The supposed highlight and catchphrase is Alan Sugar telling someone "You're fired."

Paddy would have had an answer for Sugar. Instead of crying and becoming all dewy eyed, she would blow her whistle and everybody would be out.


Billy Hayes is the general secretary of the CWU, the communication workers' union