In 1969, Arnold Weinstock, managing director of General Electric Company, announced that he was closing the Royal Arsenal as it was no longer a viable concern. In response, the local Labour MP called for government support for new industries in the area.
Local unions organised a series of protests against the closure. One of these was the Association of Scientific Workers (AScW).
Membership of AScW was confined to those holding a degree or technical qualification — so it might be assumed that its members were more enlightened than most. Nevertheless, some in the branch wanted to carry a banner with the slogan, “The problem with Hitler was he didn’t kill enough of you bastards”. They were, of course, referring to Arnold Weinstock, who was Jewish.
At the time, I was a full-time official of the union. I remember that I had considerable difficulty in persuading branch members not to use that vile slogan. Thankfully, I was successful.
What is certain is this: the union leadership was not antisemitic. In fact, the Woolwich branch had recently met the union’s General Secretary, John Dutton, who himself was Jewish. Indeed, it was Dutton who helped to reconstruct the branch.
Arnold Weinstock proved to be a very progressive employer making redundancy payments to all those who lost employment, making him the first major employer to agree to do so. Trade union leader Clive Jenkins commented, “I don’t mind members losing jobs, providing they disappear through a money shaped aperture.”
I am now ninety years old. Although I have repeated this story many times, its message has not been heeded. So now I am recording this incident for posterity.
My message is simple: I do not believe that Labour is intrinsically antisemitic — even though sometimes people act instinctively, ignoring the dreadful outcome of antisemitism.