Staden Sid

Sid Staden


Born in 1923, Sid, like his father before him, was a lighterman, who "drove" barges around the London docks. It was in this tough world that he became a trade unionist and member of the Communist Party. He was notable as an official who tried to apply the theory of Marxism to the practice of trade unionism.


He became the deputy general secretary of the specialist Watermen, Lightermen, Tugmen and Bargemen's Union. He was in the leadership of the WLTBU during one of the seminal employment law cases of the 1960sStratford (JT) & Son Ltd v Lindley, Watson and Staden. Stratford controlled two companies, Stratford & Son and Bowker & King. The union was refused recognition at Bowker & King, so industrial action was taken against Stratford & Son. The courts ruled that there could be no trade dispute between the union and Stratford & Son, so the union was liable for any damages the company might suffer. The Labour government legislated to rectify this position in 1965, and again in the mid-1970s, but this was unpicked under Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s.


The small union (see pic right below for headed paper) merged with the Transport and General Workers' Union in 1971 and Sid became part of the important ports, canals, rivers, and docks group of that union in the south east of England,


From 1978, he served as secretary of the largest Region (London and South East, or Region No 1) of the T&G, which later became part of the Unite union.  On becoming Regional Secretary, Sid joined the Labour Party.  There was seemingly little political difference in this act. He had been a Communist probably since his youth in the wartime period, so it’s likely that he held some nearly forty years membership of the Party.


There were deeper reasons for this than he would have let on; indeed, there was already something of a history to this. After the bans on Communists holding office were lifted in 1968, Jack Jones had insisted that regional secretaries should not normally be Communists (only one publicly card-carrying Communist has ever held such a post since). It was mainly for the special role that Regional Secretaries played in managing the union’s sizeable delegation at the Labour Party that governed this concern.


Several T&G officials appointed as regional secretaries after 1968 left the Communist Party for purely tactical reasons, so as to be able to hold this office, and Sid was one of them. (At least two others maintained, at least for part of their period of office, a pragmatic membership, in one case whereby their card was held by a Party official, or in another that they participated in Party meetings as a full member but without a card.) 


It has been written that Sid’s motivation was regional in character and the notion of preserving adequate representation certainly sounded more positive but it would have certainly been a matter of Labour Party politics that was at the heart of Sid's personal decision, something he may not have been ready to share.


During Ken Livingstone's tenure as leader of the Greater London council in the mid-1980s, Sid served on the board of the council's industrial intervention body, the Greater London Enterprise Board. During this period, the board did not just use public money to support enterprises crucial to London's economic wellbeing. Its intervention meant union recognition and the negotiation of various forms of industrial democracy and workers' participation in these enterprises. Sid retired from full-time union work in 1998.


The friend and mentor of Barry Camfield, who later followed Sid as Region 1 Regional Secretary, Sid was a man of strong views who enjoyed debating the issues of the day. Such was his passion for oratory, as Camfield notes “he was the only T&G regional secretary I know of to have won a standing ovation from his committee after giving his regular quarterly report. He would regale us with stories of the Thames…”


Sid enjoyed the simple things in life. Visiting T&G officials could look forward to a fish and chip lunch in the regional office with Sid, excellent quality cod with "wallies and onions", debate and laughter. At regional office functions, at the end of the evening it was Sid who always helped to clear up, rather than clear off. He was highly respected by his staff and officers and was senior officer in his region for 10 years until his retirement in 1988. After a long period of retirement, some of which was marred by ill health, he died aged 87 in 2011


Sources: edited version of 17 February 2011 obituary by Barry Camfield in The Guardian (note almost all text is based on Camfield’s pieces, except that the comments here on Staden’s Labour Party membership are from Graham Stevenson); see also Barry Camfield’s piece in the Morning Star 8th November 2010


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