Unite the Union commemorate the 40 anniversary of the General Strike of 1972.
The recent withdrawal of Spanish labour in 1969, cemented a new awakening of working-class consciousness in focussing their mind and interests independently from party political affiliation.
Unite the Union would like to invite the people of Gibraltar to join us in commemorating the 40 anniversary of the 1972 General Strike that paralysed almost the whole of Gibraltar. The strike started on August 20th, developing into a general strike on the 22nd and finished victoriously on August 26th, 1972.
The social and economic conditions that developed prior to 1972 meant that a new period of trade union militancy was to prevail thereafter. The recent withdrawal of Spanish labour in 1969, cemented a new awakening of working-class consciousness in focussing their mind and interests independently from party political affiliation, and from the realities of a closed frontier situation. This additionally meant that the MOD could not continue to use Spanish labour as a source of cheap labour thereby emasculating the strength of Trade Unions. In addition to this, there was a rise of young militancy within the TGWU which culminated with the union disassociating itself from the GLP/AACR in 1971. At the same time leading towards the 1972 biennial pay review, Gibraltar had experienced rising inflation due to the closed frontier. All of these factors gave the new union leadership more confidence in pursuing a wage claim more in line with preserving their standard of living, and very much echoing the mood of working people.
Therefore, when the Official Employers in the Public Sector tabled a 40 pence weekly allowance not consolidated into basic pay for the ‘Cost of Living Allowance’, this was seen by the union as humiliating and a general atmosphere of discontent and mistrust ensued leading to the commencement of the General Strike: the final offer after the strike ended was four times higher, an increase of £1.85 in basic rates with the added bonus that this increase was consolidated in basic rates and would also be reflected in overtime earnings.
The August 1972 General Strike was one of the finest expression of the new level of unity and strength amongst all working people of Gibraltar, and a catalyst for the firm pursuit of their demands for social, economic and political justice. Soon after the strike employers inclusive of those in the Private Sector, took the union seriously and negotiated a series of agreements that reflected too the ‘ Cost of Living Allowance’ against a background of growing union strength and organisation.
Another significant area of growth was in union membership and in particular the TGWU saw during 1971-72, a rise from some 3,500 to just over 7,000 members. This factor too allowed the union to flex its muscle for demands in improved pay and condition throughout Gibraltar. There was no doubt that the success of the General Strike was epitomised by the new level of solidarity by all grades regardless of organizations, background, or sector. This brought about a union density within the labour market of around 55% which made it one of the highest in Europe.
At the end of the strike the union held a mass meeting in a packed Queen’s Cinema where the Executive members were greeted with a standing ovation.
As the TGWU resident officer and leader of the union Jose Netto stated in his message at the time, ‘the issue here is more than just money; it is the moral strength gained by the union and the workers as a result of the strike, their victory will be too important for it to slip from the memory of working people’.
Unite the Union would like to pay tribute to all those people that made the General Strike a huge success and in particular to all the Trade Union leaders at the time.
Unite the Union is trying to organize a day of recognition (date, time and venue to be announced) to honour the leaders that were at the forefront of this very important break though that changed the lives and rights of working people in Gibraltar. Unite the Union is asking for your help with any contribution you might be able to provide be it with your time if you have an interest in this very historic event or be it any memorabilia you may have, or give us any accounts of your experiences at this memorable time of our history. Please contact Marilyn Bramble at telephone no 20074185 at Unite the Union, thanking you in advance.