George Norman is dead. The man who for many years was the best known militant rank and file leader on Manchester docks was cremated on Wednesday June 18th. He had been incurably ill with cancer for a long time.
George Norman was the man the Ship Canal couldn't buy, and the fighter they couldn't scare. He Was the man they finally succeeded - ten years ago - in driving out from his job. He was the militant leader they had offered to make foreman - and then victimised when he told them where to stick their 'soft' job.
Others who got up to speak at meetings had their price. Some liked the prospect of becoming foremen. One even thought a foreman's salary worth the nickname "Judas". A few enjoyed the 'respectability' of friendly relations with the management.
But not George. George never flinched in the fight, he never cowered - and he never sucked up to the bosses. His price was better wages and conditions for every docker in Manchester - and that was the price the gaffers wouldn't pay.
For George the foremen were the overseers who wielded the employers' whip to make sure the bosses got more than their money's worth out of the men. George was interested in making bloody sure they didn't succeed.
The higher wages and softer job he could have had by selling out, by crossing the line to the bosses' side - for George these came at too high a price. He wanted these things for all dockers - or for none!
Nor did George want 'friendly' relations with the management. He, like any good militant, would have been insulted to find himself in their good graces. He saw the need to negotiate with them, of course.
But he saw further. He saw that when the share of assets going on wages rises, then profits fall. He knew that there was an unending fight - under the present system - between wages and profits, between owners of docks and factories who receive profit, and us who own nothing but our labour power and receive wages.
He saw talk of a common interest between bosses and men as a snare to trap foolish workers. He knew that dockers and other workers have never got anything without a fight. He saw his own job to be to make that fight as successful as possible.
He saw the hatred for him of the Ship Canal as proof of his success. He was honoured, not upset, by it.
There was another reason why George didn't want friendly relations with the employers. George was a socialist and a communist. Like many other good militants, whose first belief is in the democratic power of the workers, he remained with the Communist Party despite - not because of, despite - that Party's connection with the Stalinist antics of those who rule Russia.
He believed the working class should own, rule, administer and control the ships, ports, industries and fields of England and the world. He believed the working class should and could rule itself, that it didn't need the bosses,
This is what made George Norman different. His unbending belief that the working class could, should - and one day will - take over this country and the whole world, allowed him to see things differently.
He saw the everyday struggle for wages and conditions as part of the big struggle for workers' power. He saw the wages battles as battles for everyday life - but also as dress-rehearsals for when the majority of our class decides to solve its problems once and for all by taking over.
In each wage battle he saw the giant strength of labour stirring itself. Until his death he remained convinced that we will one day go further - and stand up on our feet and sweep aside those who today make us fight every inch of the way to keep the little bit of butter we get on our 'crusts'.
George saw the workers' fights from this angle and that's why he couldn't be bought, that's why the tin-pot tyrants of the Ship Canal couldn't frighten him. That's why he had contempt for those labour and trade union leaders who enjoy and are flattered by hob-nobbing with the bosses, whether on the steps of the 'front' or of the un-oficial 'back' stairs.
That's why they couldn't break him. They victimised him, drove him out of his job, and used the courts to stop his reinstatement. But George stayed in the fight - and his fight goes on.
He was cremated last Wednesday. Last Wednesday there was the 4th of the present series of one-day strikes. This is the best way to commemorate and vindicate George Norman, and all the other labour militants who are gone.
In the future George and all the others will be fittingly commemorated by the battles of millions of workers for better conditions and eventually for socialism. The workers who strike and struggles and fight will not know George's name. But they will commemorate him all the same.
Goodbye George Norman.
Workers' Fight Docks Bulletin, Manchester, mid 1969