Born Jeremiah Richard Lawlor in 1915, Dickie first became a temporary postman in the summer of 1932 and remained connected to the General Post Office all his life.
He appears to have joined the Communist Party in the 1930s but records about his early life are, so far, thin. Although no state registration has been found for it, he was recorded as a “GPO indoor worker” in 1939, and deemed married to Doris and living at 5 St Martin’s Road, Lambeth.
He was called up to serve in the military in 1940 and no doubt returned to the GPO after service, becoming a rank-and-file law representative of the Union of Post Office Workers (UPW). The union had been banned from affiliating to the TUC by the vindictive post-1926 anti-union legislation and the response had been supine. Despite post office workers’ wages and conditions falling well behind the private and public sectors, little was being done until pressure began to build up in union conferences in the late 1950s and early 1960s, at which Dickie was the central motivator.
His name was the cornerstone of a 1965 legal case against the Union of Post Office Workers. This was not the usual first response of British Communists but the resort had emerged out of first outward signs of a rebellion against the then authoritarian anti-strike leadership. Disputes burst out in 1962 and 1964, the latter only weeks before a Labour government, the first for 13 years, was elected. A one-day stoppage and series of short stoppages, which slid into sharper action in militant depots, took place. Actions and attitudes were harder in London than anywhere else.
In September 1964, to general astonishment, the union’s executive expelled seven senior officials of the main London District, including Dickie who was its key leader. The High Court intervened and tense controversies ensued. The then General Secretary, due to the controversy he triggered by trying to expel Lawlor and others, departed for senior management roles in nationalised sectors. He would be succeeded by the more well-known Tom Jackson, a right winger but one who led the infamous 1971 7-week strike.
Lawlor had led a complaint to the courts that still stands as an important precedent in British case law. The argument was that applying the union’s rules to the actual circumstance was void due to being against public policy for natural justice to prevail. No voluntary body can, however its rules are worded, exclude the ultimate jurisdiction of the courts on matters concerning members' rights.
Ultimately, the legal case was successful mainly since any internal final appeal was only to the annual conference and this process would have taken too long for natural justice to be able to be said to apply. Since it is taken as a matter of course by the law that the rules of natural justice are implied in a society’s rules, unless expressly excluded and since the rules of a union are the equivalent of being the content of the contract of membership, it was a breach of an implied term to uphold the rules of natural justice in disciplinary proceedings, where a member has been expelled without notice or any adequate hearing.
Under a now less restrictive leadership, Dickie Lawlor was elected in 1969 to a new post as Assistant General Secretary, effectively Tom Jackson's deputy but died still in office in 1973.
The UPW changed its name to the Union of Communication Workers (UCW) in 1980. In 1995, it merged with the National Communications Union (NCU) to form today’s Communication Workers' Union (CWU).