On the 28 th April, we remember those workers who have lost their lives or have been
seriously injured at work. Workers Memorial Day commemorates those workers. So says
the wording on the newly erected workers memorial monument unveiled today by Trades
Union officials, Bridgwater Trades Council and Bridgwater Town Council in Bridgwater’s
Blake Gardens. ‘We work together, we stand together, we remember together. Remember the dead: fight for the living.
The monument is located to the North-West side of Blake Gardens, soon to be planted with red
roses, within a couple of feet of the former Labour Headquarters at Unity House, Dampiet St. The
memorial was the idea of the UNITE the Union South West 8257 Branch, based at Hinkley Point ‘C’
construction site. The names of Unite branch officers Jonathan Davies, PJ Wand, Gary Stiff, Gareth
Fairburn and Steven Davies are engraved on the monument along with the people who unveiled the
monument Malcolm Davies (UNITE Convenor at Hinkley C), Steve Preddy (UNITE SW Regional
Officer, Rob Jordan (EDF Construction Director) and Cllr Tony Heywood (past Mayor of Bridgwater). Also in attendance at the opening was Town Council Leader Cllr Brian Smedley and Dave Chapple the Secretary of Bridgwater Trades Union Council. Jonathan Davies was Master of Ceremonies.
PJ Wand, representing the Hinkley ‘C’ UNITE branch, said Bridgwater was his home town. He had
originally worked in the agricultural sector and was now working on the largest construction project in Europe.” Unless you’re in a unionized workplace you don’t understand the benefits- I worked in
farms and I’m lucky I still have all my limbs”
Steve Preddy, the UNITE Regional Secretary, said “International Workers Memorial Day is of
fundamental importance because the health and safety of our members is the most important thing.
We also of course remember that key workers have lost their lives during this current covid epidemic. And we also remember today the Bristol Unite Bus Driver who died of Covid, and tragedy of the 4 young workers who lost their lives at Avonmouth, one of whom was only 16 years old.”
Rob Jordan, the construction director at EDF said: “Hinkley is the biggest construction site in Europe. This is an international day of mourning. Someone dies every 15 seconds, that’s 6000 people every day, at work. People who are going to work to provide for their families died doing that. That’s 2million a year. Then there’s also injuries, disease, and mental health issues. This is a day to reflect and to honour. At Hinkley Point today 6000 workers will come and go and we are there to ensure it’s a safe place of work.”
At 1150 Cllr Tony Heywood, on behalf of Bridgwater Town Council, unveiled the UNITE flag from the monument. Cllr Heywood said he was also proud to be a UNITE member as is current Mayor Leigh Redman, and current Town Council Leader Brian Smedley who added: “The legacy of working-class organization runs strong in the town of Bridgwater.” At 12am there was a minute’s silence.
“A Town That Makes Things”
Dave Chapple, Secretary of Bridgwater Trades Union Council, speaking of Bridgwater’s working-class history “I’m pleased to say, thanks to the Unite the Union Hinkley Point ‘C’ Branch, that there will be a workers’ memorial in our working-class town of Bridgwater from today until long after I’ve gone. Bridgwater is a town that has made things or produced things and for that reason a strong working- class grew up. The history of Unite’s predecessors here goes back to the Amalgamated Society of Engineers/ASE-skilled craftsmen, in the 1880’s, but it was 1896 when the Dock Wharf Riverside and General Workers Union, led by Ben Tillet, put Bridgwater on the map when brick and tile workers came close to being slaughtered by the Gloucestershire regiment in a major strike which culminated in a siege of the town hall only 200 yards from here.
So, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. I’ll name some of them. Harry Gosling -the London
Thames lighterman; Ben Tillett, the dockers leader and what a speaker, loved coming to Bridgwater, though it might have been said of him what was said of miners’ leader AJ Cook, that he never knew what he was going to say before he mounted the platform, and didn’t know what he’d said when he got off! Ernie Bevin, T&GWU secretary and later Foreign secretary, he too loved speaking in Bridgwater. As factories developed here-Wills Engineering, British Cellophane, the ROF, Wilmot- Breeden, Sealed Motors, so too, from 1962, did an annual TGWU Trade Union Festival. That might just have been unique in the South West, as did the fact that Bridgwater was the only town that had a Lancashire-style ‘Wakes Week- they called it ‘Shutdown’ that lasted right into the 1980’s. Jack Jones, Frank Cousins, Moss Evans, TGWU General Secretaries would all come here for this festival, it was a family week as well as a workers’ week: concerts, parades, football tournaments, band concerts in the town hall, as well as union and Labour rallies.
Sid Plummer, the first DWRGWU Labour parliamentary candidate in 1918; Walt Farthing the first TGWU Labour Borough Councillor; Jimmy Boltz, the first T&GWU man to be Borough Mayor, and through the 50s into the 1980s with Ken Richards and John Turner a TGWU Convenor at British Cellophane, a Labour Councillor for 50 years, and an Honorary Freeman of the town.
Perhaps the most colourful of these TGWU men was Bud Fisher, originally from Trealaw in the
Rhondda: he came to Bridgwater just before the General Strike of 1926. Bud was expelled from the Bridgwater Labour Party no less than four times, but, in his younger days, was the fiery Communist leader of the Bridgwater unemployed. He organised and led marches of the unemployed on the town hall, demanding boots and milk for the children. Bud Fisher then became the first Bridgwater full-time trade union convenor, for the TGWU at Puriton’s Royal Ordinance Factory during World War Two, representing, perhaps, 3000 workers. In the 1950s, with the Labour takeover of the Borough Council, Bud was chair of the Housing Committee and personally invited Aneurin Bevan down to open the town’s 1000 th post-war council house in Adscombe Avenue on the Sydenham Estate.
So, Bridgwater has a unique west country history, and, in 2021, is still the only Labour Town Council in the south west. So far as International Workers’ Memorial Day is concerned, I will go back to the ROF. Despite converting post-war to making parts for Airey Houses, ROF soon returned to the making of high explosives. In June 1951 six men died, blown to pieces in an explosion at the Nitration House there. They were Frederick Rossiter, Albert Letherby, Albert Hendy, Henry Cridland, Michael McGarry, and Harold Kearle. In December 1967 there was a further explosion, this time from the Naptha process plant, and a further three men died: Alfred Bradford, Ken Fisher and James Wells.
I have interviewed a retired ROF Firefighter who was one of the first on the scene after the
explosion, and he related to me how he recovered the severed head of a workmate from the tree. I
have also interviewed ‘Big Bill’ Davis of Woolavington, who told me that, in June 1951 and in
December 1967, he had swoped shifts at the RPOF and so missed both explosions! These are the
worst two industrial accidents in our history, and if for nothing else, I thank the Unite for giving me the opportunity to name these men, who deserve their own Workers’ Memorial Day monument, over in the village of Puriton, at the entrance to the old ROF site.”
More about the 1896 strike here Brickyard strike