- Hits: 5525
Born Peter Edward Carter in Tipton in 8th July 1938, he was the eldest of five children to Ted and Mabel Carter, public house licencees of the Whitehall Tavern in Greets Green, West Bromwich. He joined the Young Communist League around 1960.
Seemingly, his adherence came out of the blue; one source from within the YCL from his time, alleged to this author many years ago that, before he joined the YCL, Carter had previously been linked to gangs of aggressive youths, trying to keep dance halls as white as possible. The source was most insistent, as he saw it, that Carter had personally overcome a deeply difficult mistake. Even so, if true, this claim is damning, especially as it is now known that, at the time, Fascist groups hid behind youth gangs in the promotion of this racist onslaught.
It is, perhaps, possible to see a more innocent attraction of rough-and-ready physical excitement in the youth than simply dodgy politics, subsequently transformed by a sense of class on reading a copy of `Challenge’, the YCL’s paper. In 1961, `Challenge’ had interviewed Claudia Jones (see separate entry), a famous black Communist. The issue had been on sale at many of the protests outside dance halls, with its slogan “Race Hate or Harmony” prominent. But many of the protests had been met with fists and worse, from organised fascists.
Another unimpeachable source recalls Carter responding to a question at a YCL public meeting in the 1960s, in an aside about the need to understand the confusions of youth, by openly referring to his previous membership of a fascist organisation. Yet a third highly reliable source tells of Carter admitting to him in the 1970s prior membership of a fascist organisation, although the National Front (NF) was mentioned by the source, it was probably actually Moseley’s Union Movement given the datings.
Of course, it is now impossible to confirm or deny the accuracy of this allegation, and estimate its severity but, naturally, more information on this aspect would be welcome from any reader and any constructive contributions will be published.
Certainly, in places such as Bradford, Sheffield, and Birmingham, Mecca Ltd was the owner of the Locarno ballrooms, which had first experimented with the colour bar during the wartime period and after, arising from the clashes between rival racial groups of American soldiers. As British Commonwealth immigration, filling low paid jobs, began to rise dramatically during the 1950s and a resurrection of the wartime and post-war bars emerged, Communists, trades unionists, and some student groups campaigned to end what was apparent to them to be simply a colour bar. In opposition, fascist groups sought to mobilise youngsters, especially Teddy Boys.
It now seems bizarre and inhuman but, surprisingly, a colour bar was widely accepted as quite normal back then. The first Parliamentary debate on immigration, on November 5th 1954, wasn’t concerned with numbers entering the country but focused on the claim that a colour bar in Sheffield dance halls had been justified due to the knife fights that broke out between gangs of youth of different ethnic origin. It had been the year that Birmingham corporation buses had finally abandoned a ‘colour bar’ on non-white employment. But a colour bar in housing still widely operated in the city. West Indians and Indians were denied accommodation by private landlords and frequently refused admission to hotels in the city, even when they could show they had funds to pay.
THE YOUNG COMMUNIST LEAGUE
Whatever was the actuality of all this, as it affected him, Pete Carter finished training as a bricklayer and, having met Norma Jean Patrick, a lively and intelligent young woman whom he probably met in the YCL. She had been born Norma Jean Harris in Birmingham on 27th January 1935 and had married at a young age to John C Patrick in 1954. (A John Patrick was later in the Campbells – see separate entry - folk circle.) Presumably, divorce followed, since Pete and Norma married in early 1962 in Birmingham and they would subsequently have two children together. Wherever the couple met, certainly, Norma - an older woman with experience and a political stance of her own - appeared to have a major influence on the better aspects of his political trajectory.
It is likely that Carter was active within the Aston branch of the YCL at this time. He rose rapidly in the ranks of the YCL, not difficult since unlike the Party the YCL had greatly suffered as a result of tensions over the events in 1956, mainly due to its links with students, which the Party now decided to organise separately. A leading Party member had had to assume responsibility as Midlands YCL District Secretary at one point but in 1962 Pete Carter gained that role.
Remarkably, within only another year, he had become the full-time YCL National Organiser based in London from, 1963-69. He, Norma, and their young children lived on the top floor of the book-filled home of James Klugmann (see separate entry).
Carter was effectively the Number Two official in the YCL at a national level for some six years. The key notion adopted by the League was to seek to translate the self-evident mass rebelliousness of the generation of young people then receiving a high profile in society at large, into their kind of politics. Arguing that they were seizing on the mood of the times, the YCL launched its "The Trend is Communism" campaign in 1966, arguably Pete Carter’s main contribution to the YCL.
400,000 gaily-coloured folders were produced and a full-time field worker sent out into the country, to tour the coffee bars. The YCL’s 26th National Congress was held in 1967 at Skegness. One thousand delegates and visitors attended what was in fact an international youth festival, grafted onto the usual Congress. There were competitions in the arts - painting, poetry, short story writing, plays, photography, cartooning, song competition, even a beat group contest. Amongst the judges were the journalist and broadcaster Malcolm Muggeridge, Arnold Wesker the playwright and Adrian Mitchell, the poet. Positive though all this undoubtedly seemed to many, a debt of £1,097 was left owing to the Derbyshire Miners Holiday Camp after the event, a very large sum indeed at the time. This debt was not cleared by the YCL for four years and remained a source of embarrassment for Communists active in the NUM and in the East Midlands. (To gauge the seriousness of the debt, the figure should be multiplied by at least ten times to account for inflation.)
The other major contribution Carter made to the YCL was in the realm of membership, a central aspect of his own duties. Unfortunately, this was also dogged with negativity, since Carter had introduced a postal card issue, which artificially bolstered membership at the expense of actuality simply by not having a mechanism for assessing the drop-out rate, which being young people was high. The 1967-68 card exchange was later seen by the YCL as a "serious set-back”; at a time when youth were positively radicalised, and new YCL branches were spontaneously opening all the time, the two biggest districts, London and Scotland, had experienced severe losses. A drop over two years of 29% was recorded - two year's losses almost had been collected in one year. Both of these major flaws in Carter’s work in the YCL were quietly forgotten.
BACK TO THE MIDLANDS
Carter left full time work for the YCL early in 1969 and returned to the Midlands. In 1970, he stood as a Parliamentary candidate against Enoch Powell in leafy Wolverhampton South West, seemingly a conscious – if rather token - intervention against Powell in the Black Country where Carter had grown up.
He also became secretary of the Aston branch of the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers (AUBTW), which merged in 1971 with the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers and Decorators to form the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers, Painters and Builders. In rapid succession, the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) was formed within weeks.
C Bryant & Sons (now part of Taylor Woodrow) was engaged on the construction of Woodgate Valley Area B, part of the last major council estate to be built in Birmingham. Some young UCATT activists had begun organising this site and their work was greatly stiffened by the arrival on the site of Mike Shilvock, an experienced Communist Party cadre from the Black Country.
As for Carter, he had begun to organise sites along with Phil Beyer (another Communist Party member), and other leftists, and they all began to find work on other Bryant sites. In no time at all, the various sites of Bryant in the city were connected and, given the prevailing mood at the time, especially the Labour council’s dominance in house building, by February 1972, Birmingham UCATT had virtually abolished the practice of cash-in-hand and endless sub-contracting that is known as the Lump and local wages were generally around 50% above the basic national rate.
The Lump had begun with self-employed workers hiring themselves out for a lump sum to complete a contract. During the 1960s it began to be used as a means of undermining trade union organised sites. Then, in the early 70s, the Heath government had introduced legislation to ease the control that the government ministry had over the supply of labour and the powers and rights of private employment agencies were much boosted by his government, thus providing a basis for the Lump to proliferate.
In 1972, shortly after its formation, UCATT - along with the GMWU, and TGWU, two sister unions involved in construction and civil engineering - was involved in a major national industrial dispute. Building workers all over the country went on strike, demanding a minimum wage of £30 a week, along with a campaign to abolish the 'Lump'. The strike took the form of a 13-week long stoppage which affected many major sites, effectively bringing the industry to the table. Since there was no strike pay, the £1 a day picket duty allowance gave many builders some sustenance as they scoured the West Midlands for the few construction projects that were working, pouring onto the sites as a horde and talking to individual workers, often turning many out onto strike and recruiting many for the union. Organising the picketing by directing the crowds of young men who assembled daily at UCATT headquarters, or at designated pick-up points in Birmingham gave Carter a central role in the dispute, locally at least.
Labourers’ rates were set at a £22.20 basic weekly wage under the final deal settled at national level, which saw the national strike end on Friday September 15th 1972, an earnings level that most Birmingham building workers continued to exceed. But the settlement was positive, phased increments were to take place over two years, a cost of living threshold was agreed and a review of the pay structure and working conditions of the industry was to take place. Although the unions were to indicate subsequently to the employers that no such review could begin until the scandal of labour-only subcontracting abuses were eliminated, i.e. lump labour should go.
This prompted the Communist Party’s Building Advisory, through the rank-and-file journal The Building Workers’ Charter, which was dominated by the Party, to look for ways of pushing the issue of the Lump system. Dissatisfied with what he saw as slow progress by the Party’s Industrial Department on the issue, Pete Carter conceived of a plan to promote the campaign in the media.
THE OCCUPATION OF THE ROTUNDA
Some major building firms had refined the Lump to adapt to this new situation and such agencies now began to supply subcontractors paid on an hourly basis. But the precise operation of the system was still largely shrouded in mystery and Carter brought together a group of young building workers who would become known as the Birmingham 5. Their aim was to occupy one of the employment bureaux suspected of collaborated with big building firms and, if possible get sight of confidential cards identifying the building companies.
One of the better known employment bureaux in those days was selected, a company called S.O.S., operating out of the Rotunda building in Birmingham’s New Street, which had spread far and wide from its original aim of supplying office temps. It might seem an arbitrary target but the architecture and appearance of the Rotunda – a large and unusual building, then quite new – was a source of much debate, even hostility at the time. The Rotunda looked down on a strange installation – a gigantic 20 foot fibreglass statue of the King Kong gorilla. This stood in the Manzoni Gardens – a small park between what was then the Bull Ring shopping centre and New Street – now gone and occupied by the revamped centre.
A TV crew of reporter, cameraman and sound technician from ATV, then the `independent’ regional television station, a “Birmingham Evening Mail” reporter, and two photographers were tipped off and accompanied the occupiers as they entered the Rotunda shortly after it opened at 9am on February 7th 1973. The police arrived by 9.30 and took the occupiers peaceably away. The press reporter, shortly after the occupation, landed a job with the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary. No doubt this was a sheer coincidence and the decision not to prosecute him was irrelevant to his new occupation, or even the useful service he had been able to give the police when in Birmingham!
Months later the Director of Public Prosecutions recommended prosecution of both the three ATV crew and the five building workers for unlawful assembly and conspiracy to trespass. It is clear that there was a general determination at the level of government to make workplace occupations illegal and that this was a plan already in mind as the Rotunda occupation went ahead.
Trespass was not then in itself a civil wrong, or tort. Redress was by means of suing individuals for damages, a costly process for little reward if the wrong was largely technical. Criminalising occupations was impossible without fresh legislation. Yet it might be possible to establish a new crime of conspiracy to trespass through the courts. Conspiracy was always by definition historically a more serious offence than the crime conspired at itself. By being accused of conspiracy to trespass, the activists were actually risking a prison sentence for something that, as mere trespass, could barely attract a very small sum in damages in a civil action. No harm had befallen S.O.S. agency, its staff, or its property. Nothing to damage its reputation had been said, only the truth. There was only the disruption of its business for a very few minutes. Clearly a very minor civil tort had taken place. But to conspire to trespass was a criminal act; the legal question to be answered was whether the eight defendants had in fact conspired. And, although the court never established this, the person who brought the three television workers and the five building workers together – Pete Carter – was the conspirator in chief! The two Communists amongst the occupiers were Phil Beyer and this author.
It is likely that, as the law then stood, the eight were in law guilty. The authorities accused the building workers of unlawful assembly, with intent to enter the S.O.S. premises as trespassers, preventing the normal running of the bureau, breaching the privacy of its records in a way that would endanger the peace. As the defence argued, “conspiracy to trespass was almost a new offence”. Only one instance of a similar prosecution was known in all of legal history.
Birmingham UCATT mobilised four hundred building workers to turn out in support of the defendants at the start of the trial on July 24th 1973, and some twenty building sites in the city stopped work, some for the day, some for the two hours to get to the demonstration and back again.
No evidence of any threats, violence, or intimidation emerged. Whilst a video of the broadcast was entered as evidence – even seeing a video was quite a novel concept indeed then, let alone having one as evidence and this proved critical to the case, as a mood of amusement and jollity went from the young women filmed at SOS to the jury itself.
The jury, it was later discovered, contained half a dozen trades unionists and several shop stewards. Inevitably, it returned a verdict of not guilty on the charge of conspiracy. Indeed, the Judge, Mr Justice Wein, felt almost obliged to instruct them to do so. The court then turned its attention to the charge of unlawful assembly. Pejorative words like “invaded” and “surged into” abounded in the trial. But one S.O.S. manager agreed in the witness box that some female staff had been laughing during this “invasion”. In the end, the prosecution agreed that, under legislation passed in 1875, providing trade unions immunity from tort during a bona fide trade dispute, placed the Birmingham 5 in a privileged position. If conspiracy occurred, all 8 were guilty. If the trade union 5 were innocent, then the ATV crew were protected by the immunity of the union men, and so it proved to be as all eight men walked free.
In 1977, the Labour government passed legislation clarifying the whole thing, so that conspiracy could not be used to make serious something that was not inherently so.
There are several fishy parts to the story, in the sense of odd coincidence or strange occurrences. There was the long delay before prosecution, the involvement of the “Mail” journalist, the fact that - after the Rotunda case - the government sought legislation to make conspiracy to trespass, as in factory occupations, a statute-based tort. Most convincing towards any claim that a conspiracy did not lay with those prosecuted was the `co-incidental’ assault on the `Shrewsbury pickets’.
A large group of Liverpool building workers were prosecuted for conspiracy after the Birmingham case. Their trial was held from October to December 1973 and went to Mold county court, a rural, largely Tory locality in north Wales that had no sympathy for them. It was almost as if the authorities had learned what not to do from the Rotunda trial. Certainly, the police operation against the Shrewsbury pickets was resumed after a lull in February 1973 – around the time the Rotunda was being occupied – for events that had happened the previous summer. The police had dropped their initial enquiries in October 1972, but during the period the Birmingham 5 were appearing in court and shortly after, a series of proceedings at Mold were enacted.
In retrospect, it certainly looks as though the Birmingham activists had a lucky escape. Ricky Tomlinson (now a famous actor) and Des Warren, then a Communist (see separate entry), were found guilty of common law conspiracy as a result of their picketing activities and were jailed. With others, Carter was deeply involved in the unsuccessful campaign to free them.
SANDWELL METROPOLITAN BOROUGH DIRECT WORKS
In the wake of the end of the national strike, sadly, the Lump began to be more widely utilised in the private sector of the building industry. Whilst the major building contracts in Birmingham’s city centre were now coming to an end. All this meant that Carter’s earlier glory days in Bryant’s were over. Although he continued to be a UCATT activist, from 1974 to 1979 Carter was employed at the Direct Works department of Sandwell Metropolitan Borough (SMB) Council, created in 1974 from six towns, each of which had formerly been a borough in its own right: Oldbury, Rowley Regis, Smethwick, Tipton, Wednesbury, and West Bromwich. Carter may well have been a steward for a small group of craftsmen but it should be noted that by far the largest union at this workplace was the TGWU, about 70% of the workforce (with the rest scattered fairly equally across at least another six unions, a factor that will become significant in the telling of this next phase. Indeed, the contribution made by Carter in his three years at SMB was pretty minimal, and the carefully cultivated image of him as one of the few proletarians with mass support that the revisionists within the Communist Party could lay claim to rested on some very dubious realities unknown to most, yet it seemed to land him a full-time union job with his union.
Even so, the reputation of intense militancy that surrounded Carter after his period with Bryant’s was not equalled in this period of the late 1970s at Sandwell. Seemingly, his term there was marked by a good deal of mutual back-scratching. It is claimed by those who would know, that - during his time at Sandwell, Carter had – with the support of management – no less than five workers from Direct Works who were all supposedly off work due to illness, working on his house in Chantry Rd. Seemingly, the cheek of it still stimulates former workers to swap tales of the exploit, along with the time that Carter `walked’ a wood stove from Hill Top House for his own home. Whatever the truth, Carter’s role was decidedly low key and there were good reasons for that.
Since the overwhelming majority of union members were actually T&G members, therefore the convenor of all shop stewards and the leading T&G lay official was George Hickman, also a member of the Communist Party. (He had been trying to join via Carter from 1975, having formally resigned from the Labour Party for that purpose; only in 1976 did he get a Party card – within a single day of asking - after meeting Frank Watters [see separate entry] on a picket line.) Part of the reason why Hickman was so central a figure was that, as a lorry driver, he had first mobilised workers in Sandwell direct works in the 1972, when many groups of workers within the small local authorities of the Black Country were either not organised at all or were poorly unionised; indeed, the vast majority of semi-skilled workers were not even in a union. A sterling reputation partly resting on this was reinforced when the T&G launched a campaign to recognise drivers as professionals, Hickman put in a claim for higher pay for them. When the authority refused to negotiate, he led a strike which won the pay rise. Everyone wanted to joint the T&G and so Hickman formed a Black Country local authorities T&G branch – the 5/783 - back in 1972 being the first and only member! Within two years he had built the branch up to 1,300 members but even more significantly, he had established the Sandwell MB joint shop stewards’ committee, bringing all unions together in unity.
By this time, Hickman’s union branch was a pretty militant body. Of course, his lorry drivers were a force to be reckoned with. Interestingly, on one occasion, when they had a dispute just affecting drivers, a picket line was held. Carter saw no conflict in his sense of morality in driving in through the lines and encouraging his members to do the same. When chastised by Hickman as to how this looked, Carter took to parking in a multi-story car park in the town centre and walking into work through a small back gate.
By 1977, a two-week strike of the entire workforce took place, led by Hickman, in pursuit not of wages but of a new procedure agreement that gave workers more rights. In 1981, when neither Carter nor his right-hand man from the days of Bryant, Phil Beyer (of whom more later) worked at Sandwell, the Riot Act was read and the Special Patrol Group was brought in from Birmingham, when 2,500 union members took over a council meeting at the SMB council house in Cradley Heath! The council had to postpone its meeting by a week, a Tory minister complained in parliament that there was “mob rule in Sandwell”, and a plan to cut 200 jobs and slash pay bonuses had to be rethought. It might be considered, in retrospect, that all this offered Hickman up those who would wish to pare down the power of unions as a figure to be felled.
One myth from Carter’s period at Sandwell – recently retread by obituarists - is that it was Carter who had caused the banning of Sun-type page three pin ups on the direct works sites. In fact, this echo of an approach pioneered at the time by Arthur Scargill, and much commented upon in the media, was taken up by George Hickman, as convenor, who had finally resolved the issue as he did much else. A fact well documented, since a television programme - A Man's Place, a documentary made by Central Television (12/10/1982) about images of masculinity in the mass media – was filmed in the T&G regional office in West Bromwich in 1982 – long after Carter had left the site – featured Hickman and chair of the Joint Shop Stewards’ Committee, Andy Carty, and squarely laid the responsibility on them! The site of the filming owed itself to the fact that Hickman was then under suspension, which would lead to his dismissal.
Both the usurping of a small part of Hickman’s more substantial achievement by Carter and the undermining of it can be placed squarely at Carter’s door via an article he had written for `Comment’, the Communist Party’s weekly internal journal, about campaigns against sexism in the workplace. Yet, at the time, in private, Carter was fulsome in his personal praise of Hickman’s TV performance in the documentary. In a personal letter to him [dated 14th October 1982], he wrote “I though along with others that you were terrific.” Having sought to involve Hickman in a promotional activity, using his identity as what Carter termed “the star of the show”, Carter then referred him to a researcher who was seeking information on what she called “the UCATT campaign” – really a T&G initiative with little to do with Carter - against sexism at Sandwell, as he was not himself “personally best qualified to answer the questions”.
This researcher - Nathalie Hadjifotiou - had read the article in Comment and, to aid a book she was writing, wanted to know all the wheres and why-fores of the campaign; but only Hickman could answer these, contrary to the impression given by the Comment piece. The book would be “Women and Harassment at Work” (Pluto handbooks- 1984), which clearly notes that the campaign against `pin ups’ began in 1980, when the JSSC initiated it [see page 99].
In 1981, Hickman had been asked by Kenny Barlow, UCATT Midlands Regional Secretary for a favour - to get Carter’s earlier right hand man on the sites, Phil Beyer, a job at Sandwell Direct Works. It wasn’t a question of importing a strong figure to boost organisation but simply doing a favour for a comrade who was down. There was no lump labour at Sandwell, solid T&G organisation had long shifted that. But there was a need for bricklayers, so George Hickman threatened management with all-out strike against their blacklisting of Beyer. The local paper, the Express & Star, then ominously revealed that SMB management had a dossier on George.
Nonetheless, Beyer got a job, albeit with the provisio of a three month probationary period. But he was not a properly elected shop steward and those UCATT shop stewards who were already accredited at Sandwell did not support him, so he was never elected as their convenor. Seemingly, a UCATT full-time official called Clifford simply gave him a UCATT ordinary shop stewards’ credential.
In November 1981, Hickman was disciplined at work and suspended, after workers had occupied the main offices for a whole week. But Carter’s key ally, Phil Beyer, was not supportive of either this campaign, or a struggle to defend the convenor, even attracting the new revisionist leadership of the Midlands CPGB to this position. Yet the entire Joint Shop Stewards’ Committee was decidedly in favour of backing Hickman; they even demanded paid time off from management for an emergency meeting to discuss the whole matter. A new disciplinary procedure had been negotiated but, in suspending Hickman, management flagrantly breached the agreement, even speaking to the press about the matter. [Viz: Notes of SMB works department joint committee of management and senior shop stewards, 30th November 1981; copy in possession of the author.]
Despite all this (because of this?), UCATT seemed hostile and not at all anxious about the growing anti-union mentality at Sandwell. Rather, there appeared to be a concern that UCATT was being outdone; apart from anything else, its shop stewards seem to come and go. The UCATT shop steward, after Carter was a carpenter called Mick Hopkins. He resigned after Sandwell employees refused to support Beyer over an incident involving RMC (shortly to be explained). Then came a painter called John Southall, elected against Beyer despite the recommendation of the full-time official.
Then, without any clearance from the Joint Shop Stewards Committee, Beyer stood at the gates and turned away lorries of Ready Mix Concrete (RMC) delivering to a huge contract, supposedly combating the Lump. Having brought the job to a halt by this, the workers went berserk at the irresponsibility, there being no question of a formal dispute with Sandwell on the issue. It’s clear that either Beyer was colossally stupid or there was some devious plan at work. Beyer was predictably sacked and, given the high profile of the issue, had practically the entire UCATT Midlands full-time team of officials representing him on an appeal. Barlow, Carter and another official called Clifford turned out in a show of desperation. Hickman offered support as convenor, which was promptly refused by Carter. Amazingly, although there was no provision in the procedural agreement for an appeal for three-month probationer (six months was the cut off for achieving full rights as an employee), Beyer was granted an appeal in front of councillors.
Unbeknown to UCATT, Hickman was directed by his union – the T&G - not to address a mass meeting called to campaign for Beyer’s reinstatement. It will be recalled that, a mere 16 months before, the T&G had supported Derek Robinson (see separate entry), a member of another union, when his union failed to back him properly. Then, the T&G had been a minority union; in the case of Sandwell it was well and truly the dominant union. There would be no way that the T&G would allow itself to be bounced into a dispute by a union with a tiny membership at Sandwell Direct Works. But, when the mass meeting did take place (without Hickman’s involvement) a spontaneous and unanimous decision not to support Beyer emerged. But UCATT – or someone in UCATT - was determined to become established as the main union in Direct Works.
Carter, now the (unpaid) Midlands Communist Party Industrial Organiser called Hickman to ask him to attend a meeting with Tony McNally (CP district secretary) and Phil Beyer in Chad’s Chip Shop in West Bromwich High St (there was a seating area in the shop). The aim would be to discuss the future of the joint union agreement at Sandwell Corporation. Hickman was told to attend on his own but refused this since there was a lively branch of 16 Communist Party members there. There was also some resentment that the new, revisionist leadership of the Midlands Party (which had taken power in a factionally organised coup in 1978) had declined to attend any of the Sandwell branch meetings, although the previous leadership had never had any problem with attending.
In the event, Hickman attended the meeting, on one Wednesday at 4pm, but took the CP branch secretary with him, a Parks and Leisure shop steward, Steve Mills. Although the meeting was called by Carter, only McNally and Beyer attended and at first they refused to talk in front of Mills and the two Sandwell stewards got up to leave. Restraining them, a deal was offered by Carter that would be at the expense of FTAT (timber union now part of GMB) GMBATU (now GMB), NALGO and NUPE (now both part of Unison), and the EEPTU (now part of Unite). The idea was that UCATT would take the convenor’s position but the T&G – in the shape of Hickman - would be left as a full-time steward. Rightly, Hickman rejected this unprincipled and insecure offer out of hand. Then Carter and Co. admitted that this price was a deal arranged with Labour councillors. This would also resolve the disciplinary issue against Beyer.
But the `dossier’ against George Hickman now came to the fore, perhaps since he refused to collaborate with a dirty stitch-up. Hickman was targeted by the employer and, on 2nd February 1982, sacked; in response an occupation of the depot and later a strike broke out in his defence. At one point, the Direct Works yard was full of workers at a mass meeting, ready to strike. Party members milled around the platform, arguing with Beyer, who jumped up and grabbed the microphone off the Chair of the Joint Shop Stewards’ Committee and, most bizarrely, called for the mass meeting to separate itself, sheep and goats fashion, into one group supporting Hickman and another twenty foot away against. Most shop stewards were preoccupied with trying to stop their members from virtually lynching Beyer, who had to have a police escort from the yard.
Whilst the T&G financially backed the week long strike, there was pressure to pull out. The atmosphere of the times could be incredibly defeatist and confrontational. Although Hickman had been sacked, the revisionist-backed fellow “Communist”, Phil Beyer led a `back to work’ march of about a hundred scabs every day from West Bromwich Labour Club car park. The dispute ended with Hickman out of work and subject to years of damaging – as far as job-hunting was concerned- association with militancy. Beyer simply left working for Sandwell in mysterious circumstances, not long after Hickman was sacked, and emerged as a wealthy owner of a chain of betting shops, which he later sold for a fortune.
Ken Barlow, UCATT’s senior official in the Midlands, himself brought charges against Beyer under union rules of bringing the union into disrepute due to his actions. Someone from outside the union but linked to the revisionist clique now in charge of the Midlands CP – and arranged by Carter - represented Beyer in the internal union hearing, who won a slim majority vote not to discipline him.
GREEN BUILDING BANS
Another strand in Pete Carter’s complex political life emerged during the late 1970s, when he pointed to a development in the much-factionalised Australian Communist Party, whereby a particular segment of one local building union, the New South Wales Builders’ Labourers’ Federation (NSWBLF), the former of which was largely linked to the Party, had been heavily involved in pressing their union to become involved in campaigning about the quality of their labour. An outcome of this had been to impose “green bans” on projects that seemed to harm the environment.
Oddly, although this was rarely mentioned, the vast majority of the green ban supporters in Australia had already been expelled from their union some years before. Since Australia still operated a heavily legalised industrial relations system, the ban policy worked well since non-union labour could not be relied upon but, when unionised labour was disciplined, the same ran true.
But the position in Birmingham was rather different, mass unionisation and the end of the Lump, which had been achieved only temporarily in the early 1970s was already massively challenged by the drawing of the end of the decade. Even more bizarrely, the NSWBLF campaign, long over when Carter began emulating it, had only ever instituted green bans at the request of, and in support of, residents' groups. Although some green bans had been over the kind of issues that concerned conservationists, most of Australia’s action had been focused on halting expressways or encroachment of the bush (what we would call green belt planning erosion).
Yet Carter’s suggested campaign was to support the Birmingham Victorian Society’s campaign to save the façade of the old post office building in the city centre from demolition. With all due respects to the Victorian Society, founded by Sir John Betjeman and Niclaus Pevsner, it was hardly a residents’ or tenants’ society. Some Communists were incredulous at this turn of events. Even so, tuss over the demolition of the GPO led to a longer and successful campaign by the Victorian Society to preserve the Victorian heritage of the city. The GPO was refurbished and the stonework cleaned, enabling the Trustee Savings Bank to adopt it as their head office around 1990. The bank later relocated to Bristol but a Post Office counter still remains in the building, which is now Grade II Listed.
It is said by his obituarist [Guardian October 27th 2011] that Carter’s “love life was turbulent”. His marriage with Norma ended in separation in 1977, although she was to died only 10 years later. (Pic left: Norma in the last months of her life.) “Long-term relationships with Val (Stevens?) and Jude (Bloomfield?) followed, along with shorter affairs.”
ON THE ROAD TO BEOMING PARTY INDUSTRIAL ORGANISER
The plea by Carter for the Party to adopt deep links with wider civil society forces began to be adopted by some others, in such a fashion as to jettison the offspring (baby) with the cleansing fluid (bathwater). Carter’s personal critique of the official labour movement became increasingly strident. Both approaches were early signs of the ferocity with which revisionist forces within the Party would increasingly approach the debate.
Despite much encouragement from within the Party to join the full-time complement of the union movement, Carter had set his face against such a course from the time of his return to the Midlands until when, quite abruptly, he was appointed the Midlands regional organiser for UCATT in mid-1980. He had also become a member of the Party’s EC, which he had also previously resisted being involved in. His main activity as a union official now focused on working with the Midlands, North-West, and South East regional TUCs to organise the People's March for Jobs from Liverpool to London. A group of 280 marchers left Liverpool at the start of May 1981, with feeder marches from Yorkshire and South Wales joining in. After a month 150,000 people converged on Hyde Park in central London for a final rally. A Midlands March, with feeders from places such as Derby and elsewhere followed.
When a row broke out between the Party’s top leadership and Mick Costello (see separate entry), the Party’s National Industrial Organiser, the latter went to work for the Morning Star, leaving his old role vacant. In 1982, Pete Carter became the unlikeliest national industrial organiser that the Party had probably ever had, or would have. Every criticism that was being levelled at trades unionists by the media, the Tories, and the government was uncritically retold by Carter, in a vague spirit of mixed up leftism and right wing `innocence’. His pamphlet "Trade Unions - the New Reality", considered the Conservative's anti-trade union legislation and the campaign for free trades unionism against the backcloth as what he saw as a generational realigning of the hard left and the soft left. For him, Communists needed to stand shoulder to shoulder with Neil Kinnock not Arthur Scargill.
During the 1984-85 miners' strike, General Secretary, Gordon McLennan (see separate entry) and Carter are supposed to have met Scargill and Mick McGahey to discuss how to win unity of the miners in the post-strike situation. Given Carter’s total hostility to Scargill, the meeting ended up as a complete row. Following this, Carter prepared a pamphlet on the 1984-5 miners’ strike, which was discussed by the now revisionist-controlled Political Committee. The tone of his work was so hostile and combative, even to his political friends, that the pamphlet never saw the light of day. Seemingly paradoxically, the damage to the Party’s relationship with the paper had done an even more stunning job than the assault on its relationship with the trade union movement. Some confusion did arose in the movement about what the Communist Party was or wasn’t supposed to be saying but the main impact was that membership of the Party now slid away massively. In the meantime, Carter did not accept nomination for the EC elected by the 1986 congress.
YEARS OF OBSCURITY
Carter seems to have now left the political scene, certainly from around the time the Communist Party of Great Britain was dissolved but possibly even earlier. (More information from any reader on his activities in the 1989-2009 period would be welcome.) Little evidence of his having been active in anything much exists for the next almost two decades until around 2002, when it was claimed that he was living on a canal boat at Wednesbury, and was working on odd jobs on the Lump as a brickie. Some years later, former Communists encountered him locally and, during the exchanges about his new life, it was claimed that he was supposedly working as a script-writer, which he had been doing for a decade or so before. No trace of scriptwriting has surfaced, as of yet, that can be discerned; if readers can point to the detail of this, too, it would be appreciated.
In the meantime, his close ally during the 1970s UCATT campaigns, Phil Beyer, had become very wealthy, as we have seen. In the early Noughties, he is known to have offered Carter a considerable sum to write the history of the building workers’ struggles of the 1970s but this has not surfaced either. Interestingly, Carter’s extensive files from his period in the Communist movement appear to have been now donated to the CPGB Archive in Manchester. This occurred a little while in advance of his death, aged 73, of lung cancer on October 11th 2011,