Skip to main content

Five men, six days: Pentonville voices

Parliament

On 25 July, the same day as the march to the prison, a deputation of dockers, having obtained tickets from the Labour Party, listened to the debate in the House of Commons on the docks dispute and the general industrial situation.

Colin Ross: “Barbara Castle was under orders from the Labour Party to stay in the bar” (2:29)

Ross’s unfavourable opinion of the debate; in response to Prime Minister Edward Heath’s “infamous statement” about small businesses being bullied by pickets, he insists to Labour MP Eric Heffer that the Midland Cold Store is owned by Lord Vestey’s Union International meat importing corporation.

Release

In response to an application from the Official Solicitor on the afternoon of 26 July, the National Industrial Relations Court ordered the Five’s release, mainly on the grounds that on the same day the Law Lords had judged in a similar case that trade unions were primarily responsible for the unlawful acts of their shop stewards (overturning a previous decision by the Court of Appeal). The Five, who had still not purged their contempt of court, were borne from the prison in triumph.

Tony Merrick: “before I knew it we were at the gates, on the shoulders and away” (3:29)

The “meek and mild” explanation of the reasons for the release (“a load of rubbish” in Merrick’s view); joyful tears of old trade unionists; the gradual return to normality.

Bill Chapman: “frivolity and joviality boiled over” (1:02)

Celebrations at the local Labour club lead to the abandonment of a meeting.

Conclusions

Immediate victory, long-term defeat?

Eddie Prevost: “if you want to control a stampede you’ve got to run out in front of it” (2:10)

The trade union leadership took over the rank-and-file struggle led by the shop stewards which had helped to secure the release the Five; the Establishment was temporarily beaten, but the greater struggle to secure the dockers' future was not won.

Introduction

Previous: Persuasion & March