Many from Garston will remember the blue union as a social club on Window Lane and a football team that played in the Sunday league, a team that was the starting point for some famous names like Jimmy Case. For decades it played a role in the social life of people Under The Bridge. It was also part of the music scene in the early sixties and was host to many of the aspiring rockers of the Merseybeat scene as the poster above shows.
The Blue Union was an attempt to create a union that was more responsive to its members. The docks had been the centre of working-class struggle for generations, from the dog eat dog system of ‘the pen’ where men and boys would wait each day to be selected by foremen. Where favoured men would get work, while others would go home empty-handed, or wait all day, in all weathers for a second chance.
Dockers would fight and scrabble for work, sometimes the culture of hard-drinking and fighting encouraged, even celebrated this individualism. Out of this culture, dockers built a union that led the way in showing how men could work with dignity. Through many years of struggle, dockers won the right to regular wages and hours. By the mid-1950s however the main union The Transport and General Workers Union was seen as conservative, and a new more radical force announced itself. The National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers Union argued for the right of workers to elect the union’s full-time officers and more democratic control. In the mid-1950s, a number of recognition strikes brought the docks, including Garston to a standstill, as members of the NASD won the right to be represented by the union of their choice. The membership cards for the NASD were blue as opposed to the T&G white cards.
The following quote is from a Garston octogenarian; “My dad was one of the members of the blue union. Until they got established they had a room over the butcher’s shop in Banks Rd opposite St Michaels church. My dad used to go there to pay his dues and meet his mates. Peter Broderick, Rupee Holt and Mr Durkin. I can’t remember his first name. My dad’s name was Denny Davies. When the union got more members they opened the first social club on the corner of Lincoln St. in Dave Hudson’s old bakery, and as it got popular and richer a new club was built on a piece of land on the opposite side, although it was always called the blue it just became a club for entertainment.
Just up from The Woodcutters, The Blue union was more green than orange and for as long as Window Lane was at the centre of life Under The Bridge then the Blue Union was a part of that.
Another Garstonite noted, “ (my father) drank at the Woodcutters Club on Window Lane and would not go to the Blue union for a drink. My grandfather, who worked at Morton’s foundry on Blackburne Street, drank every Friday night at the Blue union club and wouldn’t go to the Woodcutters.
The Blue union was more than a social club, it was a monument to the hard work and fighting spirit of Garston Dockers, to create something for themselves, most of these men had come back from serving in WW2 and were not prepared to accept pre-war conditions. Today we only remember this generation when it comes to flag-waving, maybe we should remember them as the generation that gave us the NHS, the expansion of council housing, education reforms and the growth of Trade Unions. All these were products of what those men and women achieved.
Many years of decline Under The Bridge saw the pubs and clubs disappear one by one. I’m sure many readers will have their own stories and memories connected to the club. As someone who grew up in Speke, what was also lost with the factories and industry during the 70s and 80s was a sense of community solidarity.
Bob Pennington was employed by the NASD in Liverpool from December 1954 until March 1957. I don’t know if he had any role in founding the Blue Union club, when I knew him in the late seventies he was based in London. I was sad to hear that he was homeless when he died at some point in the ’90s. The statues in our city centres and parks rarely celebrate the men and women who fought to improve the lives of working people. Maybe The Blue union was such a monument.
My novel Under The Bridge includes a chapter on the 1955 Garston Docks Strike.