A convenor at A V Roe (now British Aerospace), Woodford, John Tocher was first Stockport AEU’s lay District President and then its full-time District Secretary. He was widely noted for his role in leading the Roberts Arundel strike in Stockport in 1968. The strike, against a bid by an American owned firm to destroy trade union organisation developed into an epic two-year struggle attaining international dimensions. The story of this was written by Jim Arnison in his book, `The Million Pound Strike’. The courage and tenacity shown by Tocher became his stock in trade.
During the 1970s, Tocher played a key role in the struggle against the Tory Industrial Relations Act. During the often heroic campaign for a 35-hour working week in 1972, when other trade union officials were crumbling, Tocher led a rear-guard action to stiffen resolve, winning more than thirty local employers to concede. Other major disputes he was associated with were the Gardner Diesel Engine sit-in and the Laurence Scott dispute. In 1986, he ensured a major legal fight ensued when Ferodo made a unilateral wages cut. Giving judgement in the case, in which Ferodo had to pay out £750,000, Lord Justice Ognall, remarking on Tocher’s evidence, said that he could well understand why he had been a candidate for the Presidency of the AEU. However, the previous year’s election, won by Bill Jordan as the candidate of the AEU right, was marked by a dirty press campaign, aided and abetted by a shadowy anti-trade union body, Truemid.
But the campaign clearly took its toll on Tocher’s health, if not his spirit. Nonetheless, as Chair of the Executive Committee of the Communist Party, he was singled out throughout the 1980s for special attention by the gutter press. He resigned from the Party only because these attacks on him resulted in harassment and began to seriously affect his young family, arising from a second, late marriage. He himself began to suffer chest pains, which revealed a terminal illness. Tocher died suddenly, aged 65, on 17th September 1991, just a week before he was due to retire as North West (No 29) District Secretary of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions and AEU (No 11) divisional organiser for Greater Manchester.
Sources: Morning Star September 19th 1991; AEU Journal October 1991