Obituary: Bill Miles

Herbert William Miles, trade-union official: born London 19 September 1922; General Officer responsible for national newspapers, Sogat 1967-87; married (two daughters); died Southend 4 August 1993.

HE WAS a typical 'man of Fleet Street'. When Bill Miles retired, aged 65, in December 1987, the curtain came down on a career spanning 30 years as a print worker and union official. As Sogat's General Officer responsible for national newspapers he was regularly in the spotlight of difficult and bitter industrial relations disputes.

Miles was a socialist, not of the revolutionary variety, but earned a deserved reputation as a tough and wily negotiator, admired by members and management alike. He was even liked and respected by journalists, an unusual feat during an era famous for its 'love-hate' relationships between print workers and scribes.

His final days in 'the print' were marred, sadly, by the Wapping dispute, an event which changed Fleet Street for ever. Miles was realistic enough to believe that negotiations with Rupert Murdoch were possible had they taken place in good faith at an earlier stage, but the entrenched attitudes prevailing in those days made his job almost impossible. He said: 'Trouble is that there was a school of thought in Fleet Street that believed a trade-union official was 'selling out' if he entered into any talks with management. It was labelled 'class collaboration'. Some people at the time simply would not listen to any discussion.'

When Brenda Dean became Sogat General Secretary in 1985, shortly before the Wapping dispute, she needed his great depth of experience and wisdom to help her through the crisis. Like his old mate Bill Keys, the late Sogat leader, Miles was one of a generation of print-union leaders fast disappearing from a scene just as rapidly as the scene itself was changing.

Herbert William Miles was born in Plaistow, east London, in 1922. His father, a railwayman, died in 1930 when he was only eight. Herbert - he disliked his first name, and persuaded his friends to call him 'Bill' when a teenager - was one of five children and the family survived with the help of the Board of Guardians, the buffer state which kept so many families from starvation in those days. When he was 14 he was lucky to get a job with a printing firm, Lamson Paragon, which was non-union. His colleagues wanted to join a union but they talked about it 'in whispers', such was the management's anti- union view. He eventually joined the Paperworkers Union, not long before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Miles joined the RAF and served overseas for three years. He was always reluctant to discuss those terrible years 'except to wonder what happened to our victory - the new world we fought for'. After the war he was delighted to see that his old firm had established a union chapel (branch), with a 300-strong membership, and he was soon elected chairman.

In 1953 Miles left for the Daily Express, where the 'glamour image' quickly dimmed. He was elected deputy Father of the Chapel in 1954 but after a brief spell in that role was sacked. He explained: 'I was told by management that I was incompatible. I was in the publishing warehouse and I was suspended from work for eight weeks while the union fought my case. I think I was sacked because I was challenging manning arrangements which were being introduced and to which I objected. That was unacceptable to management so I was dumped.'

When he was found a job at the Daily Telegraph, where pay rates were lower, the union subsidised his pay. He was unhappy with that arrangement and later left for the Radio Times and did Saturday work on the old Sunday Pictorial. That began a long spell of trade-union activity which helped guarantee his election, in 1960, as a lay member of the Paperworkers' national executive committee.

He was elected chairman of the Radio Times chapel in 1958 and in the following year was elected to the committee of the London Central Branch and then on to the union's national executive. He became a full-time union official on 1 May 1967 after his union merged with Natsopa to form Sogat.

His memories of Wapping were not happy, and he remained bitter about the role of the EETPU. But he admitted: 'We were not able to get people to believe that Fleet Street was going to change, whether or not they went along with those changes. I tried to persuade print workers to negotiate with Murdoch, but nobody would listen. You have to remember that we, in the print unions, had cried 'wolf' so often . . . we seemed to believe that Fleet Street wouldn't change. But Murdoch did it without us.

'That was the moment when attitudes changed. Yet I still believe that given the goodwill we could have negotiated our entry into Wapping. The difficulty was that I don't believe any terms would have been acceptable to the members.'

Bill Miles enjoyed retirement, spending more time with his two daughters, Gaynor and Rhonda, and three grandchildren. He improved his golf, lectured at universities on socialism and trade unionism, and worked for charities including Save the Children. He claimed there was more to life than going to work, 'and I intend to discover what the secret is . . .'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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 People

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders