Keeper of trade union conscience fights on: The labour movement today marks the 10th anniversary of the GCHQ ban. Barrie Clement on a tireless campaigner

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Indy Politics
HE IS always there. At every conceivable opportunity, Mike Grindley draws attention to the ban on unions at the Government's communications headquarters at Cheltenham.

He will be there this evening in London when the great and the good in the Labour movement assemble to remember 25 January 1984. On that day, Geoffrey Howe, the Foreign Secretary, rose in the Commons to announce that trade unionism was no longer acceptable at GCHQ, the intelligence 'listening centre'.

Since 1984, thousands of workers elsewhere in industry have given up their right to be represented by unions, often voluntarily, sometimes gratefully in return for cash.

Mr Grindley, 57, is a trade unionist of another caste. He will be at the head of the protest march in Cheltenham on Saturday, still 'doing the business' as he puts it. An expert in Mandarin Chinese - a language he learned during National Service - he was no doubt involved in translating top-secret communications between Chinese embassies and military commanders when he was employed at GCHQ, although he will not divulge his function.

Mr Grindley, in common with 13 colleagues at GCHQ, refused to give up union membership and were dismissed for their trouble. During his 26 years at the Cheltenham-based listening centre, he had no record as a champion of unions before the Government tried to stop him belonging to one. In fact, some of the tub-thumpers were among the first to give up union membership.

He has been a thorn in the side of both union leaders and the Government. People with a personal and long-term commitment to industrial disputes often are. He is a symbol of unions' failure - and their leaders' impotence - and has blocked any hint of compromise by national union leaders with more amenable ministers. 'Headstrong' is one of the politer adjectives used by his detractors, although 'affectionate exasperation' normally characterised their attitude.

Recently a union delegation met the Prime Minister on the issue and rejected an offer that the in-house staff federation at GCHQ might become loosely affiliated to national unions. If union leaders were minded to accept, they knew that Mr Grindley would have been enraged. His opinion will always be a consideration.

Mr Grindley hopes the next watershed in the battle will be an unprecedented condemnation of the British Government by the UN's International Labour Organisation this summer. For the first time the United Kingdom could be bracketed with Third World countries for breaking fundamental articles on the freedom of association. That would give him a degree of satisfaction.

He would derive far more, however, from the restoration of union rights at GCHQ, even if he never used them to the full.

(Photograph omitted)