Born on the 23rd April 1930 in the region of Abruzzo in Italy, Cafrlo Piccirelli’s father was called into the Italian army in 1942 but, instead, joined the Partisans. As fascist Italy began to crumble, Carlo and his mother and three other siblings were turned out of their home by the now occupying German army for their own use.
After the Allied landing in Sicily the situation got worse and gradually the Germans began to move north, but left behind massive destruction. When British forces arrived, Carlo was nearly 14 years of age, and the “troops treated us as part of their empire”.
In November 1949, he was called into the Army and spent 18 months in military service. Afterwards, he went back home but permanent and reasonably paid jobs were very hard to find. In 1954, he accepted an offer of work in Briton Ferry in Wales. To resolve its own shortages of labour, the UK provided 10 tons of coal for each man medically fit and under the age of 45 as a kind of signing on bonus.
Piccarelli was surprised to find that he could not change work or lodgings without letting the police know, for the first five years he was in Britain. After his work in Wales ended, in the summer of 1960, he moved to Birmingham. As an existing member of the TGWU then, he was able to go to the union office in Broad Street, Birmingham and seek employment on a union register of labour – this arising from the widespread use of closed union shops at the time. Within “twenty minutes they found me a job at Lucas in Shaftsmore Lane”. After a couple of years there, he moved to Harrison Drape in Bradford Street.
He joined the Communist Party around this time and, after a while, became a shop steward. He relates the time when a strike occurred after a failure to agree on annual wages, when workers “marched from Bradford Street to the Bull Ring and back whilst carrying the union banner. Unknown to us the Police were taking photographs of us marching. I only found out about this when I applied for a British Citizenship, which was refused, because I was, according to the Home secretary an undesirable subject.” Almost certainly, this would have arisen –perhaps not so much from the practice of police photography – from the practice of MI5 in seeking to record the membership of every single member of the Communist Party.
Piccarelli found himself victimised by his employer over a manufactured incident and was sacked. He found work in Mucklows Hill and later joined Evan Woods, a small non-unionised factory in Station Road, Blackheath. By now a member of AUEW, he recruited most of the employees into the union and became convenor of another four shop stewards. He negotiated an agreement for an increase in pay, conditional on late attendances being no more than twice weekly. But the company did not meet its side of the bargain – seemingly a previous mode of operations by the firm. On finding no such increase in his wages slip, Carlo called an on-site union meeting, which decided upon a strike. The next day, the workforce was sacked and an official dispute ensued over the next twelve months. Union support evaporated and the firm closed, but Carlo was now “blacklisted” by the West Midlands Employers Federation.
He found it impossible to get work anywhere, until he applied for a post as a local authority `Neighbourhood Officer’, after a decision to decentralise the administration of housing and social services by locating offices in the middle of council estates to minimise bureaucratic separation. Carlo began work in Darlaston, followed by Dudley and then New Invention, retiring at the age of 63.