Former general secretary John Foster was made member of honour on Friday. Nobody deserved it more. His work touched not only every NUJ member but thousands of trade unionists in the UK, through his work on the Press for Union Rights campaign. But he was personally an inspiration.
In 1993, I got married, went on strike and was sacked, all within the space of a few months. I was FoC at Morgan-Grampian, a large magazine company in Woolwich, south-east London. Faced with derecognition we needed, and were given, total support from John Foster and the NUJ. This is how much:
A suggestion a few hard-core chapel members had discussed was to occupy the building. We knew we could not expect all members to occupy. We thought a small number of us could do it.
John Foster listened to the idea and called a secret meeting at Acorn House. There was Linda Rogers, our magazine organiser, the legal officer Sally Gilbert, me, John Foster and – at that time an interloper, but now an NUJ official – Barry Fitzpatrick from the GPMU. We talked through logistics, we talked through the legal problems, we even talked through the likely heavy-handed and violent response the company might uses to empty us out of the building. Barry promised some GPMU heavies – they had learnt the rules during the Wapping dispite – to help get us out safely if need be.
The action would have to be unofficial, we agreed. The union would have to officially disown us, while secretly helping where it could. The problem, as John Foster pointed out, was that the NUJ National Executive Council might just be stupid enough to take a principled stance and make the action official, causing the union to have its funded sequestrated.
It never happened in the end. We had a more tradtional strike, but we remained derecognised and I was soon sacked.
But John Foster never tried to talk us out of it, never suggested weaker action, never tried to water it down. He was brick.