Mike Hicks: 1937–2017
Mike Hicks: 1937–2017
Mick Hicks, former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) who was jailed for his role in the Wapping print-workers dispute, died on Thursday 7th September at the age of 80. Appropriately enough he collapsed whilst giving a speech just after being made Honorary President at the AGM of the Bournemouth Labour Party, thus ending a political career that began with him joining the Young Communist League (YCL) 64 years ago in 1953.
Born Michael Joseph Hicks in August 1937, Mike’s father was a leader of the London dockers. His elder brother Pat Hicks, who died in 2011, was of the same mould as Mick, being a leader of the London taxi drivers. Mike recalled that instead of Cowboys and Indians, he and his friends played Blackshirts and Jews in the bomb sites of his native south London and remembered being given rare wartime treats, such as bananas, that the dockers had ‘liberated’ from the London docks.
His first job was with Waterlows, printers of stamps and banknotes, but much of his working life was with John Menzies’ newspaper and magazine distribution branch. He was active in the printers’ union the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT), becoming a member of its London Central Branch and rising to becoming Imperial Father of Chapel covering six depots. In 1986 he became a full-time official of SOGAT.
He was very active in the Wapping dispute that began in January 1986 when Rupert Murdoch's News International group moved production of its four national newspapers to Wapping in London's Docklands. Over 5,000 Fleet Street printers and clerical workers were sacked overnight when Murdoch transferred production to a modern printing plant at ‘Fortress Wapping’ in the East End of London.
Using scab labour, News International continued production with the full support of the Tory government and the strike ended in defeat for the printers in February 1987.
During the dispute pickets and rallies outside the plant were frequently charged by mounted police. In addition to hundreds being injured, in all 1,435 pickets and supporters were arrested. Mike was one of four people jailed, allegedly for pushing his megaphone into the face of a police officer. This merited a sentence of a year, with eight months suspended, a sentence that resulted in national protests. Even the national executive committee of the Labour Party voted unanimously to call for his release.
In 1991 he was instrumental in the merger of SOGAT and the National Graphical Association to become the Graphical, Print and Media Union (GPMU), now part of Unite the Union.
Within the old CPGB Mike Hicks was a leading opponent of the ‘Eurocommunist’ trend, an ultra-revisionist faction within the CPGB associated with the monthly magazine Marxism Today. Their influence, which extended right to the top of the CPGB bureaucracy, ultimately ended with the dissolution of the CPGB in 1991.
Mike was expelled from the CPGB in 1984 after he ignored an order from the Eurocommunist General Secretary Gordon McLennan to close down the London District Congress of which he was Chair. Following his expulsion he played an important role in the Communist Campaign Group (CCG), which was established to defend the Morning Star, the paper that had once been the flagship of the CPGB, now under threat of closure by the ‘Euros’ who wanted all the CPGB’s efforts to revolve around Marxism Today.
The CCG later became the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and Mike Hicks was elected General Secretary of the newly formed party in 1988.
He worked closely with his second wife, Mary Rosser, who died in 2010. She was Chief Executive of the Morning Star between 1975 and 1998, and Chair of the Marx Memorial Library from 1977 to 2010 with a short break. Even her enemies acknowledge it was she who kept the paper alive (often by taking harsh measures) when vital overseas orders were lost at the time of the Gorbachov counter revolutions. Mike’s trade union contacts were vital in securing alternative sources of funding for the paper and securing co-operation with the printers.
A tough working-class militant, his forceful character did not always go down very well with his more refined comrades. An internal split at the Morning Star over the rights of the Management Committee brought to light internal CPB disputes, which saw him deposed from the post of General Secretary by a 17–13 vote moved by the Editor of the Morning Star during a CPB Executive Committee meeting in January 1998. Hicks’ supporters on the Management Board of the Morning Star retaliated by suspending and then dismissing its Editor. This led to a prolonged strike at the paper that only ended when the Editor was reinstated.
In the wake of that split Mike Hicks became involved in the ‘Marxist Forum’ group organised by opponents of the new General Secretary Robert Griffiths.
For many years after 1998 it was Mike who ensured that the Marx Memorial Library’s Committee remained in safe hands by ensuring a good turnout of print-workers to vote at the stormy AGMs. He was an effective trade union officer for the Library, helping building links with the trade unions and helping to secure a large donation of printers’ records and memorabilia.
Retirement to Mary Rosser’s native Bournemouth saw them both join the Labour Party, on whose behalf he served as Trade Union Officer. He also unsuccessfully stood for Labour during the 2011 Bournemouth council elections.
Although he disagreed at the time with the foundation of the New Communist Party (NCP) in 1977 he was a good friend to former New Worker Editor Ann Rogers and NCP leader Andy Brooks, to say nothing of many other comrades who were inspired, informed and entertained by his countless anecdotes.