One out of order, all out of order

This week's unseemly brawl by Aslef officials continued a rich tradition of union leaders' excess. David Felton celebrates the labour movement's answer to the hotel-trashing rock star


THE BARBECUE BRAWLERS

THE BARBECUE BRAWLERS

Shaun Brady , general secretary, Martin Samways, president, and Michael Blackburn, assistant general secretary of Aslef

Shaun Brady and Martin Samways, respectively general secretary and president of the train drivers' union, Aslef, were suspended this week - along with a third official and three members of staff - after a less-than-fraternal brawl at the union's palatial offices in Hampstead, north London, during a barbecue. This newspaper reported that during the fracas, in the garden of the former home of conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, Samways got "a good kicking" and Julie Atkinson, Brady's assistant, was "laid out". Ms Atkinson has made a complaint to police and Camden's finest are now investigating.

Precise details of how the brawl started are difficult to establish, but one version has Samways leaving his bed in a flat he occupies on the site to complain about a party-goer who was loudly slagging off left-wingers.

Another has Brady taking issue with unacceptable behaviour by the president, who allegedly turned up late and uninvited at the party. Mick Blackburn, assistant general secretary, was also suspended, although he claims that he was only trying to separate the other two.

The union's annual conference, which was due to take place in Scarborough next month, has been postponed as a result of the incident.

NO EXPENSES SPARED

Roger 'The Dodger' Lyons, former joint general secretary of Amicus

Roger Lyons, who until this week was joint general secretary of the white-collar union Amicus, is known for his assiduous expense claims, which were first revealed in an internal investigation two years ago. The investigation cleared Lyons of any wrongdoing, but he was none the less forced to step down as joint general secretary after the Government Certification Officer for Trade Unions ruled that he was in the job unlawfully because he had not been re-elected.

Meanwhile, his detractors remain fascinated by those expenses, which included £6,366.70 claimed for hotels and meals over nine months, and £2,757.90 claimed for "sustenance". The latter category included claims - ranging from from £4 to £19.65 - relating to meetings with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (who usually supply coffee and biscuits), as well as £877 spent in takeaway restaurants and off-licences near his home in Finchley, north London - and, most famously, for 25p for a bun, bought on a credit card at Patisserie Valerie in Soho, central London.

Lyons also submitted bills for office equipment - a total of £1,869.10 - covering everything from the purchase of batteries to internet services, radios (one for his bathroom), video recorders and a briefcase from Selfridges.

CHAMPAGNE GALORE

Robert 'Bollinger Bob' Parker, former Scottish regional secretary of the GMB

Robert Parker was forced to resign as leader of the GMB general union in Scotland in March last year after four complaints of bullying and harassment were lodged against him at employment tribunals by his own staff. All were settled with the union's funds taking a hammering. The biggest payout, of £300,000, was made to Margaret McAvoy, Parker's former PA, who claimed he had sexually harassed her. His downfall coincided with revelations of a lavish (and union-funded) lifestyle. Indulgences funded by his members, who are among the lowest-paid workers in the country, included a taste for oysters and copious amounts of Bollinger champagne (six bottles would be put on ice for him when he checked into his regular suite at the Thistle Hotel in Glasgow).

Over a three-month period, he racked up £ 2,760 at restaurants in Scotland and England and spent £1,400 in restaurants during four days of the union's conference in Brighton. Parker, a former parks department labourer, earned £40,000 a year as a union official and had corporate American Express and Visa cards. He was reported to have spent £820 on Champions' League final tickets and drove a £25,000 silver Mercedes. According to a former colleague: "Lunches with Parker would start at lunchtime and would end in the early evening."

THE RAUCOUS RAILWAYMEN

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, and 14 other RMT officials

Bob Crow, leader of the main rail union RMT and 14 union regional officials ran up a £4,203.74 bill for a boozy night out at the exclusive Corse Lawn House country hotel in Gloucestershire. Managers at the hotel were reported to have apologised to other guests at the hotel, who included couples expecting a nice, quiet meal to celebrate a wedding anniversary, for the RMT party's rowdy and occasionally foul-mouthed behaviour. The union insisted that the night out - which included an excursion by taxi to a pub - was a "justifiable expenditure for an officers' conference"; and it was the union that picked up the tab.

Crow, who has been described as a bit of a rough diamond, moved on the next day to a champagne reception at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, where his boys, Millwall, were in the FA Cup final. No wonder he appeared a trifle jaded when he turned up on Breakfast with Frost on Sunday morning.

Crow's enthusiasm for Millwall has sometimes got the better of him in the past: complaints have been made to the club's management over his behaviour and ripe south-London language while watching the match from the press box.

THE NOT-SO-RED BARON

The late Joe 'The Cherub' Gormley, former president of the National Union of Mineworkers

Joe Gormley led the National Union of Mineworkers in the 1970s when the union only had to sneeze for a government to lose office. Noted for his rosy cheeks, small stature and broad Lancashire accent, Gormley would reply to questions about his champagne lifestyle with a retort borrowed from an earlier Labour politician: "Nowt's too good for the working class." This particular defender of the working class - who went to work down the pit at the age of 14 - smoked big cigars, rode around in a Jaguar, travelled to Ascot races by helicopter and lived in a large union-owned house in commuter land. He also won big pay rises for his members, bringing down Ted Heath's government in the process in 1974.

Gormley was also known for his consummate deviousness in the murky world of union politics. (He made sure that Communist Mick McGahey could not succeed him, only to let in Arthur Scargill.) After he retired, Gormley joined the ultimate gentlemen's club, the House of Lords, as Baron Gormley of Ashton-in-Makerfield. He was recently named in a BBC television programme as having been a Special Branch informer, spilling the beans on "dangerous" left-wingers in the trade union movement.

KEEPING DOWN THE WORKERS

John 'Big Boss' Edmonds, former general secretary of the GMB



John Edmonds, one of Britain's leading union officials in the 1980s and 1990s, presided over an organisation which was accused of unfair dismissal, bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination on the grounds of race, gender and disability - all the stuff, in short, that unions such as the GMB were meant to fight. More than 60 complaints were lodged at employment tribunals by union employees, costing the union more than £4m. The union also posted a £19m deficit in its pension fund for employees at a time when it was attacking retirement provisions in the private sector. Kevin Curran, Edmonds's successor as general secretary of the GMB, had hardly unpacked before he was told by the union's bank that he would have to sell £2m of shares to meet the monthly wage bill.

Belligerent and outspoken, Edmonds, who was educated at public school and Oxford, argued the Old Labour case and instigated a financially crippling recruitment drive. Among many complaints about his staff's bizarre behaviour was one concerning a union official in the north who, on recruitment campaigns, rode a Harley Davidson paid for by the union. A source inside the union said: "This union must rank among the worst employers in Britain."

THE £817 CURRY

Andy 'Chasse-Spleen' Gilchrist, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, and friends

The £82,000-a-year general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union gained notoriety last year when, at the height of the firefighters' strike, he used his union credit card to pay for a meal with four companions at the fashionable Cinnamon Club in Westminster. The bill came to £817.31 and included four bottles of Chateau Chasse-Spleen, a cheeky little Medoc, which at £85 each is more than many firefighters earn in a day.

The Cinnamon Club is favoured by media types, celebrities and politicians for its designer Indian food, and the Gilchrist party sampled a good part of the menu and drinks cellar. The Rajasthani roast venison at £25 was a particular favourite and in all they polished off six bottles of wine along with assorted aperitifs and digestifs. It was an uncharacteristic blunder by the usually media-savvy Gilchrist, a member of the "Awkward Squad" - the new breed of left-wing union leaders determined to give Tony Blair a hard time.

Gilchrist, the son of a school dinner lady, subsequently refunded his union the cost of the meal and the revelation does not appear to have done irreparable harm to his standing with FBU members or colleagues in the union movement. (Many general secretaries were probably muttering "There but the for grace of God ...")

THE LIFT SHAFT INCIDENT

Derek Fullick, former president of Aslef, and Sid Weighell, former general secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen

Derek Fullick, a south London train driver and president of Aslef, was at the TUC headquarters in the 1980s for a meeting where he had a frank exchange of views with Sid Weighell, then general secretary of the rival National Union of Railwaymen. This celebrated contretemps ended with Fullick grabbing the NUR leader by the braces and threatening to throw him down the lift shaft. Wiser counsels prevailed, and the combatants all left the building safely - using the stairs.

Aslef has a reputation as an unreconstructed union. Its full name is the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, although there haven't been firemen on trains for decades.

As for its views on gender - one former official, asked why there were so few women train drivers, replied that if God had meant women to drive trains he would have put a sink in the cab.

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

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

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album