FRANK CHAPPLE, who died last week aged 83, was leader of the electricians’ ETU union between 1966 and 1984, and won’t be missed much.
Better known on the left as Franco Chappello, Chapple had an air of arrogance and sheer menace about him that he used at every opportunity to nettle opponents inside the ETU and in the wider trade union movement.
He was bestowed a peerage by his great admirer, Margaret Thatcher, in 1983.
By then his red-baiting antics had become so odious that he had not only managed to isolate himself from other union leaders on the TUC general council, but his own union had become a virtual pariah within the working class.
A few years after Chapple’s retirement his heir apparent, Eric Hammond, notoriously conspired to stab the print unions in the back at Wapping.
The ETU was ultimately expelled from the TUC and only allowed back in through a merger with the AUEW (now Amicus).
Chapple took to his personification in the Tory press as a cross between Tony Soprano and Max Miller with great relish.
The supposedly likeable hammer of the left was commonly excused because of the role he and his predecessor, Les (later Sir Leslie) Cannon, had performed in exposing ballot-rigging by Communist Party (CP) members within the ETU during the 1950s.
This campaign reached its culmination in a sensational trial at the High Court.
Chapple—like the little hoodlum grassing up his former companions—got out his violin and onions before informing m’lud that, in his innocence, he too had taken part in the alleged Communist conspiracy and had been “heartily ashamed” thereafter.
A large number of very good militants and CP members had broken with the party in the 1950s, and for very good reasons—not least the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.
But only a handful flipped so completely the other way as to allow themselves to become mouthpieces for the most foul Cold War propaganda.
Chapple’s own disillusionment with the CP was never quite as principled as he liked to make out.
And from the time he became general secretary of the ETU in 1966 he set about consolidating one of the most extraordinarily reactionary and undemocratic trade union regimes ever known.
Membership of the CP was banned entirely, Chapple became president as well as general secretary, the election of full time officials was replaced with appointment, and any glimmer of independent action was crushed by the union machine.
His rantings became particularly unpalatable towards the end of his tenure, when Thatcher had started to go on the rampage.
For all the hardship he undoubtedly faced during a very tough upbringing in the East End of London, it was in his role as flag-bearer for a strain of virulent business unionism that Chapple will always be remembered.
A form of treachery to his own working class roots, lauded to this day by the likes of Tony Blair, can never be forgiven by the rest of us—not least by Socialist Worker, which he repeatedly tried to shut through outrageous libel writs.
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