Moving with the Times — but Still a Union ClubCategory: Leisure
In the North, working-men’s clubs are booming. Some are as glossy as anything in Las Vegas, and have moved a long way from beer and snooker clubland. They have entered world of smart lounges, plush deep pile and top-line entertainment.
I’m in favour of the deep pile and the top-liners, but to me, many clubs have drifted far from their original purpose as centres of working-class activity, welfare and good comradeship. The other evening, however, a wet and gloomy one, I rediscovered a faith in the principles that lay behind the old working-men’s clubs and enjoyed myself in the process. I did so at Blackpool Trades Club.
The Trades has undoubtedly moved with the times, but it has never forgotten the purpose for which it was founded, and is proud to remain a genuine trade union club. I was shown round by its Communist president, Spencer Hudson, and the Labour Secretary Bill Marriott.
We passed through the members’ lounge with its £ 600 carpet, cedar panelling and white-coated waiters, into the even plushier general lounge. [..]
Where does the money come from? Beer mostly. What is even more refreshing than beer sales is the way some of the money is spent. Upstairs Spen took me into the meeting hall of the trades council, and showed me an office opposite, with ‘Trades Council” painted on the bright yellow door. These facilities are all free.
Next I was shown the magnificent concert hall, with its stage and bar, where Ribble Motor employees were holding a social.
The club must be unique in that it has never had bingo.
“Neither have we had beat groups,” said Spen, who has been president for six years and concert secretary for fourteen.
“Our members don’t like them. The only time there’s a beat group is if a works committee has a social, and brings its own. During the summer we have concerts every night, and employ 14 artists a week. They vary from opera singers to comics. We don’t go in for the big names; that hasn’t caught on here.”
Spen and other stalwarts of the club are justly proud of the part club plays in the local Labour movement. It was founded in 1920, partly because trade unions had difficulty in finding anywhere to meet. It began in a house, which, according to the minutes, the trades council secretary was instructed to “fasten with a deposit of £ 10.” Known as the
“Sawdust Club,” it had spittoons, and gas jets to light pipes, In 1929 larger premises were bought in Chadwick Street. Although ambitious, its members never broke with the trade unions, but sought to grow with them. Secretary Bill Marriot said: “We are different from a lot of working-men’s clubs in that the only way you can be a member is by being a trade unionist. Trade union branches pay 3d per member per year. Women are full members in their own right. All 15,000 members of Blackpool Trade Council are automatically members.. They pay no personal subscription. The essence of the club is to provide meeting places for trade unionists and all sections of the Labour movement. The Labour spring fair is held here, the Daily Worker bazaar and C. N. D. (Committee for Nuclear Disarmament) jumble sales. We provide facilities to those attending TUC (Trades Union Congress) conferences, and we’ve had as many as six meetings going on here simultaneously. We can accommodate a conference of up to 300 at weekends. And we will lay on, without charge, entertainment for organisations. They’ve only got to buy the beer — and they can be certain of a fair deal. There is no overcharging here!”
Bill made it clear that there was never any need for a trade unionist visiting Blackpool to kick his heels. They’re welcome as honorary members.
“If a member is in hospital,” explained Bill, “they’re visited and given presents. Through the C.I.U. they can be sent for a fortnight’s convalescence.”
Back in the members’ lounge Mr Harold Dunn, secretary of the trades council said: “This club has helped to put the trade union movement on its feet in Blackpool.”
Mr Sam Hyde-Price, a Labour stalwart, club trustee and former national president of the Post Office Workers’ Union, said: “This lounge ought to be known as the Spen lounge. All over years he wanted the Labour movement to have decent premises, carpets, comfortable chairs and somewhere we would be proud to bring our wives. If anyone worked hard to make it possible, Spen did.”
I don’t think 64-year-old Spencer Hudson really cares — about the honour, I mean — but he is concerned that the club should continue on its chosen path.
I don’t think they need worry. Talking to some of the younger members, it was obvious that they’ll continue the good work. May the example of Blackpool Trades spread. Many more similar clubs throughout Britain would be a great step forward for the Labour movement. All it needs is a little bit of that initiative and gumption we keep telling ourselves we possess so abundantly.