H

Hagger Pete

 

Peter Hagger
 
Peter was born in London on the 17th April 1944, where he lived with his mother in Edmonton. His name was, in fact, first registered as Peter Ernest Hagger, his mother’s surname. Although, arising from her later marriage, he was known as Peter Fuzzy until 1985, of which more later. He was, in his younger days, employed in computers as an engineer. But Peter began to do the Knowledge and succeeded in getting his Public Carriage Licence as taxi-driver in London during 1969. He became married and he and his wife had one son and one daughter.
 
Very quickly he gravitated to activity in the Transport and General Workers Union in one of its cab section branches. By 1972, he had become a protege of the legendary Sid Easton and joined the Communist Party under his influence. Within four years, he was playing a leading role within the T&G’s Region 1 (South East England). In 1977, he began to become heavily involved in the Party’s “Transport Advisory”, in anticipation of the retirement of Erik Rechnitz (see entry for Rechnitz), who had succeeded Easton as the chair of this significant body. He became the Chair of the Region 1 Cab Trade Committee and was elected to the Regional Committee to represent the Cab Section.
 
He was widely involved in the affairs of the union and, it is not often appreciated, a major player in the taxi world. For a long period a member of the Passenger Services Group National Committee, he was a major participant in the development of the union’s policies on taxi matters. In 1979, he practically invented and negotiated the Cost Price Index used to determine a fair level of taxi fares for London cabs, taking into account the needs of drivers’ maintenance costs.
 
He became the Left’s nominee for on of the London territorial seats on the T&G's General Executive Council and, from 1980-2, he began to play a key role within the union’s Broad Left. He became hugely influential as Chair of the Broad Left in the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) and as the central figure on the union’s General Executive Council (GEC), speaking for the left. The election of Ron Todd as General Secretary was perhaps the defining moment of the union in recent times, it put the seal on the shift to the left that had begun in the union during the 1950s. Peter was central to this challenge and contined to become a towering figure in the union during the transition to Bill Morris’ leadership and in the first stages of this period. It was perhaps little appreciated outside of the higher echelons of the movement just how influential Peter had become before his very early and untimely death in 1995.
 
During the controversies over elections in the T&G in the 1980s, he and other key lefts on the T&G Executive were personally named and identified in a vicious attack in the Sun tabloid `newspaper. Peter himself won major libel damages against the Sun and bought himself a new taxi, calling it Rupert in ironic homage to Murdoch. This now proven entirely false story had claimed extensive ballot rigging in the T&G had been sanctioned and carried out by key GEC members and their allies. But the entire purpose was really to destabilse the union, which was by then – apart from the NUM – the only significant left voice amongst all unions committed to opposing the Tory anti-union laws by challenging their consequences with illicit mass action if necessary.
 
From when Ron Todd was adopted as the Broad Left’s candidate in January 1984 meeting, he was as good as elected. But, arising from some concern about the reliability over this decision from the incumbent chair of the left, a new one was needed. Along with other senior members (now retired or deceased) Peter Fuzzy was proposed, semi-humorously, as a new “Gang of Four” to interface with Ron Todd and Peter was increasingly seen as the new chair from October 1984.
 
In the face of the momentous events of the miners’ strike of 1984-5, the CPGB was inert and Peter was a stern critic of the new revisionism that beset the Party. He complained at one meeting of Communists that: “Marxism Today comrades in leading positions put ideas opposite to Party policies on the EEC, the Social Contract, Free Collective Bargaining, the Broad Democratic Alliance and Thatcherism.” He said that the Party was isolating itself from the Left in the trade union movement … (Peter) Heathfield (of the NUM) had used the word `treason’ in talking of (George) Bolton’s contribution to a round-table discussion” in Marxism Today. 
 
The vast majority of Transport Advisory Communists were now clearly isolated from the Party leadership. Fourteen, including the present writer, signed an open letter drafted by Peter and published in the Morning Star: “We are Communists active in the Transport and General Workers’ Union and are appalled at the deprivation of the democratic rights of delegates at the North-West and London District Congresses by the Executive Committee of the Communist Party…. We shall fight for a Communist Party leadership that (will) form the basis of a Marxist party.” [Morning Star 12.12.84]
 
The Communist Party had been able to boast in the 1970s of as many as 12 members, or those so close to the Party that it didn’t matter whether they had a card or not, on the union’s executive. The lack of focus in the Party on industrial work, that followed Bert Ramelson’s retirement, began to tell. By the early 1980s, we were down to four and Peter was the youngest. In this situation, his role became central. Certain forces had started to behave in a very hostile way, included plotting to shift Peter as an Executive member, by linking Ford’s and the London Bus membership up. Nonetheless in early 1985 Peter was safely re-elected.
 
As for Ron Todd’s election the GEC had found no basis for a re-run; most of the complaints were sheer nonsense, and some were even from non-TGWU members! Solicitors writing to the union also normally acted for the EEPTU and the SDP. The purpose of the exercise was not to get Ron Todd out as General Secretary, that would have been a bonus, but to weaken the front against accepting Government funding for ballots and to destroy the TUC’s Wembley decision to refuse to co-operate with Tory anti-union laws.
 
The union’s executive commissioned an independent inquiry by John Garnett, the president of the Industrial Society. Out of 1,061 branches in Region 1, he identified only 8 where there were clear grounds for suspicion of malpractice. The level of concern was relatively small and could not have affected the result. Only one clear case of misadministration came to light in the Bristol area, resulting in the dismissal of one official and disciplinary action taken against two members, although the allegations were contested. Overall, there was therefore no reason to re-run the election. On discussing all of this, however the executive voted 31 to 5 to hold a re-run General Secretary election, against the advice of Moss Evans but in accordance with the wishes of Ron Todd, who was, however, easily elected in a final and uncontested outcome.
 
It was at this time that Peter dropped the name “Fuzzey”, which he had never really liked anyway, and reverted to his real name, his mother’s name, of Haggar. There was clearly an element of wanting to distance himself from the revulsion he felt at being accused of an essentially apolitical act of ballot-rigging.
 
Nonetheless, the 1986 GEC elections was to see a two year shift to right wing control and in many ways this had only occurred due to disagreements over the future of the permanent officer leadership roles. Yet, though a determined media campaign saw Peter singled out for attack by the Evening Standard and the Sun, he topped the poll in the London division. The fight-back resumed and, two years later, under Peter’s leadership, the Left stormed back into control on the GEC.
 
Despite this difficulties existed. In 1989, during the review of the BDC, Haggar laconically commented that “if the BDC had been cancelled on Tuesday night we would all have been happy, but we woke up Wednesday morning!” On defence, training, public ownership, trade union legislation, poll tax and Labour Party questions, there was “common ground” on the Left. The issues of ballot monies, energy and Ireland meant that we had to agree to differ. Apart from defence, the Left “lost everything with the platform always against us” and with “Kinnock … pulling the strings”.
 
Whilst this left the union with a number of compromising policy positions, the consciously right-wing organised faction had been comprehensively defeated. Even so, controversy did not diminish. Perhaps arising from the intervention of outside forces, two years later, against a background of murky manoeuvring, a rumour developed in November 1990 that an unnamed national officer had transported ballot papers – which would have been a fair sized set of boxes – to activists in the north-west, who had supposedly gathered together with a range of pens to massage the vote by filling in these unused voting papers stolen from Central Office of the T&G.  Malevolently, the Sun calculated how many trips a London taxi would have to make to transport the boxes of ballot papers, sneakily trying to link Peter Hagger to the theft amongst T&G insiders. Not a shred of evidence ever connected anyone to anything but of all people and the accusation floundered. Certainly, Peter would have been the last to even contemplate such a despicable act.
 
From this time onwards, the onslaught from right wing forces in the media and in the labour movement faded and Peter’s role became even more powerful as the threat to destabilise the union receded. Having been de-carded by the revisionist leadership of the CPGB following the London district congress, the remaining Communists active in the union nonetheless coalesced around Peter. He periodically felt the need for a meeting of Communists, even though some had no card and the group continued even after dissolution, as his need for a collective steer to his work grew. It would be true to say that no single tactical or strategic step was undertaken by him without some form of consultation with the remnants of the CPGB Advisory, which operated quite independently from the Party’s leadership increasingly from 1985 and totally from 1988. By around 1990, the “Advisory” was advising nobody but maybe Peter and he recommended occasional joint meetings with the CPB’s new group.
 
In March 1994, Peter was unanimously elected the Vice-Chair of the T&G GEC. His firmness in opposing revisionism had not any way diminished. That year, the former leadership of the now dissolved CPGB pushed hard for support for “Unions 94”, a sort of think tank conference.  (Subsequently, there would be a `Unions whatever-year-we-are-in’ fringe at each TUC, or a one off elsewhere, until it became Unions 21 – for 21st century. Tony Blair addressed the last such event.) It was claimed that the T&G was sponsoring the Unions ‘94 conference, the log even adorning the publicity material. Peter, as Vice-Chair of the GEC wrote a readers’ letter to the paper assuring all and sundry that the subject had not even been discussed.
 
He was elected to the General Council of the TUC, from which position he became Chair of the Joint Consultative Committee for the Trades Councils. No bureacurat, Peter famously carried no filofax, nor maintained files of any substance. He could scan a document in a flash and kept amlost everything, and most things he dealth with were highly confidentia, in his head. Continuing throughout in his role as a representative of working taxi driver, Peter was a driving force in the formulation of the T&G’s policy doument , "A National Framework for Taxis”, the internal negotiation of which he likened to having been involved in strategic arms limitation talks! By this stage, he was so well-known in the taxi world that he was enormously respected and admired even by taxi radio circuit proprietors and vehicle manufacturers, no natural allies of the T&G.
 
Peter was unfazed by the high and mighty and had a good rapport with people like Ken Gill, MSF leader, and Rodney Bickerstaffe, of NUPE and then Unison. But many in the T&G were not prone to sit down and plan a strategy. Nor were our leaders comfortable with the wider movement, so, effectively Peter was picking up the mantle of the T&G in the wider sphere. It is well-known, at least in the union, that the period from 1993 to 1995 did not see Peter and Bill Morris always seeing eye-to-eye. Peter’s death in the period leading up to the need for Morris to seek re-election left for many an unresolved question of what his attitude would have been, many sought to second guess him. It is perhaps wise to merely record one of his own comments at this time; he thought that “a united Left is unstoppable”.
 
By 1994, efforts to achieve Communist Unity were making progress and Peter played a key part in this. Those Communists, who had not supported the 1988 re-establishment of the Communist Party, now found themselves without a Party. Peter, Ken Gill and others proposed that the CPB open itself to new entrants from the fragments of the old CPGB. Mike Hicks had visited Peter in hospital, perhaps no exaggeration to call it a death bed visitation, and sought to give him a CPB card, which Peter refused since no others had yet been also admitted. After Peter’s death, I took his place along with Ken Gill and others in representing independent Communists in their hopes for negotiating entrance into the CPB. With four others, I attended a meeting of the CPB PC to put our case. Subsequently, the CPB Executive “unanimously agreed to welcome this initiative” and invited endorsement of its statement, which would be published in the Morning Star. The statement welcomed the “process that has been initiated to develop unity among Communists in Britain” and “warmly” invited all who shared defined objectives to join the CPB and many did. Peter would most certainly have done this, had he lived.
 
As Vice-Chair of our General Executive Council and if he had lived he was certainly poised to become the union’s Chair, there was simply no signifiant opposition to him and this move was clear when he was voted in as Vice-Chair. Sadly, Peter, a colossus of the labour movement and a Communist to the end of his days, died in London on 26th February 1995.
 
Sources: Morning Star 27.7.88, GS contemporary notes 9.7.89, June 1990; March 1994 T&G Bulletin; Morning Star July 22 1994; Letter from Mike Hicks 18.5.95