Lives Remembered: Harry Spanswick


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The Independent Online

Harry Spanswick worked in newspaper printing for over 30 years. He will be missed by those whose lives he touched, whether people he worked with, laughed with, or campaigned and fought with.

Harry was born in Wandsworth on 19 July 1931, and after National Service in the RAF he began his career in printing in 1953, joining the Natsopa (later Sogat '82) union and working as an engineer assistant printing the News of the World, The Sun and The Catholic Herald. He never sought officialdom; for him it was all about the people he worked alongside. He believed in the strength and truth of grassroots representation, and the leadership and loyalty he showed to those he represented was returned to him unquestioningly by his chapel members. He was elected as Father of Chapel and also as Imperial Father (of all chapels), and it is a testament to his commitment that he was the longest-serving FOC in his union's history in Fleet street. His workmates chose him to lead and defend them every year in what were dangerous and antiquated working conditions and a harsh industrial relations environment.

Harry never shirked from standing up to injustice. Amid the starkness of 1980s industrial relations Harry showed his unflinching commitment to fighting injustice, supporting miners, for instance, particularly in Kent. And in the year-long Wapping dispute he showed his strength, leadership and conviction, fighting for his own members and 6,000 others against the injustices and violence of that time with determination and courage.

A man of insight, Harry had realised early on that News International was planning to de-unionise their papers in the move from Fleet Street to Wapping. He investigated building plans, suppliers, equipment orders and the plans of the new plant, thinking more broadly and creatively than most, ensuring that chapel members remained on site throughout the building of what became known as "Fortress Wapping" and pulling together sufficient information showing the real purpose of the plant, which he and his Chapel presented to the hitherto unsuspecting leaders of the Sogat, NGA and AEEUW unions. He then got into full throttle on the streets of Wapping in 1986 and 1987.

At the end of the dispute, despite knowing that he would not work in print again, Harry ensured that his colleagues had a voice, protection and a future within their trade union, He was immediately elected the unemployed FOC, and ensured that the union looked after those who had worked hard in the cause. Only after this did he finally leave the print industry, joining a south London educational college to work with the long-term unemployed, providing vocational skills and opportunities for employment. Harry loved this work with a passion for 18 years, working right until his last day.

Harry, who died on 10 December 2012, always fought injustice and knew that the best protection was to face things head-on. He never let anyone down and his strength and qualities will endure for everyone who knew and loved him, who laughed with him in the face of adversity. His inspiration endures through the belief that every single one of us can and should make a difference.

Madeleine Spanswick