Alf Parish: Trade union negotiator who fought for the printers in an era of radical changes

Alf Parish was one of the print unions' leading negotiators at a time when the industry faced unprecedented challenges. The collapse of the Maxwell empire and Murdoch's moonlight flit to Wapping all occurred on his watch, as did the introduction of new technology across the board. But with the industry in turmoil, Parish, cigar in hand and with acerbic wit, remained a model of calmness.

Alfred Parish, born in Bermondsey, south London, the son of a milkman, was evacuated during the war to East Sussex. He left school at the age of 14 and started his career in the printing industry by training as a line etcher. He did his National Service in the army in Germany, where he learned to drive. Motoring became one of his favourite pleasures, though later colleagues were to describe the terrors of driving with him while he held forth on some issue as he hurtled along the roads.

He returned to work in the print industry, taking a prominent role in his union as a London branch officer of the Society of Lithographic Artists, Designers and Engravers (Slade), quickly rising to become its assistant general secretary. Straight-talking, and with the ability to ask the well-timed question, he earned a reputation as a principled negotiator.

Slade, under the leadership of its vociferous General Secretary John Jackson, along with Parish, was the first union to make inroads in recruiting in the advertising industry and in smaller design studios. The National Graphic Association, concerned about work bypassing its traditional compositor members, followed its example, leading to conflict between the two unions and charges of strong-arm tactics by officials against companies like J Walter Thompson. An inquiry was set up by the Conservative government under Judge Sir Andrew Leggatt to look in to accusations of malpractice. The NGA was exonerated but tapes made of Slade officials threatening advertisers – one was told that the official had his foot on the "company's windpipe" – led to the union being heavily criticised and gaining an unsavoury reputation, which Parish fought hard to improve.

He supported the idea of one union for print-workers, and worked hard to bring Slade and the NGA together. But against a background of old mistrusts and bitter inter-union disputes, attempts to amalgamate failed until 1982, when Slade finally agreed to merge its 22,000 members with the NGA. Parish became National Officer in the new union, which following the NGA's merger with SOGAT became the Graphical Paper and Media Union.

He remained proud of the history of Slade and the part it had played in international affairs, in particular the Spanish Civil War, when it had sent an ambulance to help the International Brigade. He insisted that a plaque struck to commemorate the event should be included among the memorabilia brought with Slade to the GPMU, and kept an eye on it to make sure it was on display.

The newspaper industry was rapidly changing, and Parish's remit was enlarged as he was brought in to negotiations with Robert Maxwell and Lord Rothermere. One meeting with Maxwell was to leave an indelible impression upon Parish and his colleague Tony Burke. Summoned to meet the tycoon in his penthouse suite at the top of the Mirror building in High Holborn, the two men had been warned that Maxwell was suffering from a cold. They arrived to find him clad in a dressing down and underwear, exposing much his body and sniffling away without tissues.

"It was not the best way of negotiating, but Alf handled it with his usual aplomb," Burke recalled. "We were not too sure why we were there, but that was usual with Maxwell."

Burke, now Assistant General Secretary of the union, Unite, continued: "Alf was a formidable negotiator. He was consistent – it didn't matter whether it was Maxwell or the owner of a small graphic repro shop, he was patient and thorough. Union members trusted him. They knew he would get the best deal possible."

Parish was among officials who took part in merger negotiations with the National Union of Journalists, but talks broke down as the unions failed to reach a compromise on who handled what in the changes brought by new technology. Parish managed to retain the respect of the journalists for his pragmatic attitude and later acted as an independent referee on the NUJ's appointments committee. His responsibilities expanded to fighting the Conservative government's privatisation of Her Majesty's Stationery Office and with it changes to employment terms and conditions and the removal of civil-service procedures and protection.

The days of union dominance in the print industry were rapidly coming to an end with new technology, and the owners, led by Rupert Murdoch, dispensed with their print workers. Paris was a member of the TUC's Printing Industries Committee, which was set up to try to stop inter-union conflicts and produce a united approach to negotiations. Its early years were coloured by table-thumping and angry words, but as it faced the changes in the industry, it, too, evolved. Parish's clear-cut approach and acid wit deflected stupidity or aggression during overheated arguments, doing much to keep the unions together and paving the way for the GPMU, which is now the GPM sector of Unite.

He was deeply involved in the continuing fight for union recognition, playing a prominent role in the formation of the Press for Union Rights Campaign. He also took part in the campaign which culminated in the union-rights case taken against the Daily Mail by journalist David Wilson, which was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.

Peta Steel

Alfred Parish, trade union leader: born London 15 April 1931; married 1957 Doreen Southon (one son, one daughter); died Bickley, Kent 18 May 2011.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Sport
Luke Shaw’s performance in the derby will be key to how his Manchester United side get on
footballIt's not a game to lose, writes Paul Scholes
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Float Teacher (across Key Stages)

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Long term teacher job in a...

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education is currently recruitin...

Year 4 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education is urgently recruiting...

Teaching Assistant for Year 4

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: A Teaching Assistant is requ...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes