Sweet revenge for man who defied union ban at GCHQ

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The Independent Online
After 13 years, Mike Grindley, trade unionist, obsessive and master of Mandarin Chinese, is about to thwart the wishes of the mighty National Security Agency of America - and the even mightier Baroness Thatcher.

Much to the irritation of the intelligence community across the Atlantic and the erstwhile prime minister, the new Labour government is to offer Mr Grindley and his friends re-employment at the GCHQ intelligence network based in Cheltenham.

Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, is expected to make the announcement tomorrow as part of the debate on the Queen's Speech.

It has taken Mr Grindley hundreds of speeches, scores of visits to union conferences, years of stubbornness and, more importantly, the election of a Labour government to achieve his goal. "We are elated," said Mr Grindley, "people in GCHQ are already wearing union badges.

"It's been a mixture of tenseness, tiredness, excitement and endurance. We always knew in our heart of hearts that we would win our rights back, but if we had been told it would take 13 years, the prospect would have been daunting indeed."

Mr Grindley, along with 13 colleagues, was dismissed on the order of the Thatcher government after refusing to give up union membership in return for pounds 1,000.

The ban on trade unionism at the centre, which monitors radio communications around the world as a part of an Anglo-American intelligence agreement, followed the expression of concern by US spymasters.

A series of strikes in Whitehall in 1981 over pay led to industrial action at GCHQ and the US security agency used its diplomatic muscle to secure the union ban.

According to some sources, the American agency has now bowed to the inevitable reinstatement of union recognition, but has registered its keenness to see a prohibition on stoppages.

Mr Grindley insists that essential services have always been maintained during industrial action - a contention supported by Sir John Nott, the then secretary of state for defence, who said the industrial action had "not in any way affected operational capability".

About 10 of the "refuseniks" are expected to refuse re-employment, some because of retirement, others because they have embarked on other careers.

While senior management at the complex and their US counterparts are seeking a "no-strike" deal, a less restrictive formulation is likely to be agreed in negotiations which will follow Mr Cook's announcement.

Ironically the reviled GCHQ Staff Federation - the organisation set up in the absence of orthodox unions - is likely to be subsumed into the PTC civil service union.

Alas for Mr Grindley, the election of a Labour government has come a little late. For him there will only be a symbolic return to work.

A short walk into the GCHQ site within the next few weeks will be followed by a long stroll into retirement.