Posts Tagged ‘Jack Dash’

Union Action for the Unemployed: The Invasion of the Ritz and in the 1980s

March 16, 2014

Unemployed Union pic

One of the pieces contained in Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove’s selection of radical and democratic texts from British history, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport, is Jack Dash’s account of the invasion of the Ritz Hotel in 1938 by himself and other members of the National Unemployed Workers Movement. Dash (1907-89) later became a docker and trade union leader. He said at one point that his epitaph should be ‘Here lies Jack Dash/ All he wanted was/ To separate them from their cash. His account runs as follows:

We decided to invade the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly. Everything was well planned. The press – that is, the London and national newspapers (and in those days before the swallowing up of the little fish by the big ‘uns under free enterprise there was quite a number of them) were all informed in advance. At the appointed time about 150 of our unemployed members, all dressed up in such remnants of our best suits as had escaped the pawnbroker, walked quietly into the Grill and sat down. This did not have the quite hoped-for effect, for due to a mistake – the only organizational mistake I can remember on the part of the campaign committee – we had overlooked the fact that the Grill was never open in the afternoons, only in the evenings. However, we continued as planned, took our places at the tables which were being set by waiters in readiness for the evening, and then pulled our posters from beneath our coats, with slogans calling for an end to the Means Test and more winter relief for the aged pensioners.

Can you imagine the looks on the faces of the waiters! They stood still in their tracks. Up rushed the management supervisor demanding to know what it was all about. He was politely told by our elected speaker, Wal Hannington, that we would like to be served with some tea and sandwiches because we were very tired and hungry, but he was not to be anxious and could present the bill which would be paid on the spot.

When the supervisor regained his breath he said, in a very cultured, precise Oxford-English voice: “I cannot permit you to be served. You are not our usual type of customer. You know full well that you are not accustomed to dine in an establishment of this quality. If you do not leave I shall have to send for the police.” (This had already been done.) In reply our spokesman informed him that many was the Saturday when wealthy clients of the Ritz would drive down to the East End workmen’s caffs in their Rollses and Daimlers and have a jolly hot saveloy, old Boy7, what! Slumming, they called it, and they too were in unusual attire and frequenting establishments that were not accustomed to such a clientele; nevertheless, said our spokesman, these gentlemen were treated with courtesy and civility and nobody sent for the police. The Ritz, he added, was not a private members’ club but a public restaurant ; he requested the supervisor to give orders to the staff to serve us with the refreshments we had asked for.

The appeal might just as well have ben addressed to the chandelier which hung from the ceiling. The supervisor stood there with a look of scorn, waiting for the police to come and throw us out. We refused to budge, insisting on our right as members of the general public, with legal tender in our pockets, to be served with what we had ordered. Meanwhile Wally had mounted the orchestra platform to address us; waiters and kitchen staff stood around dumbfounded at our temerity. But our speaker was incensed and in good form, and the issue of class privilege was clearly put. I noticed several of the staff members nodding their heads as the speaker touched on salient points. His speech was never finished, however, for the Grill was soon surrounded by the police. A couple of inspectors came over and consulted our organizers; we were ordered to leave, and did so in an orderly manner. As we filed out several of the waiters came up to wish us luck in our campaign, and pressed money into our hands.

‘Jack Dash, The Invasion of the Ritz Hotel (c.1938)’ in Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2012) 296-7.

The invasion of the Ritz Hotel was also featured a little while ago in a previous episode of the One Show on BBC 1.

The authors of Socialist Enterprise: Reclaiming the Economy, Diana Gilhespy, Ken Jones, Tony Manwaring, Henry Neuburger, and Adam Sharples also note the establishment of centres for unemployed workers in Brmingham, Coventry and Sandwell, as well as the establishment of a Birmingham Trade Union Resource Centre and support given to a Workshop in Coventry to support unions campaigning against the closure of their firms. West Midlands County Council also had an Economic Development Unit had a trade union liaison officer. It also produced a ‘Jobs at Risk’ information pack for workers whose companies were either in difficulties or about to close down. (p. 59).

I’m sure there are organisations like the National Unemployed Workers Union campaigning for the unemployed. Unfortunately, the trade unions have been decimated by Thatcher and successive administrations, while local authorities have found their spending savagely attacked. No doubt part of this was to prevent Left-wing councils spreading such subversion by empowering the hoi polloi. We could, however, do with a few more very visible protests and campaigns to raise the profile of unemployment, and just how savage, degrading and inadequate current welfare provision is. Pointing out that IDS’ reforms are leading to deaths of 38,000 per year, so that no-one can claim ignorance, would also be an immense help. I do wonder if a mass march on Chipping Norton, or invasion of the Carlton Club following the example of Jack Dash and the Ritz wouldn’t do any harm, either.