“You don’t get me, I’m part of the union!” One of Steve’s favourite songs. Can’t think why…!
Another was the Manchester United anthem, “Glory Glory Man United.”
If there are any Manchester City supporters here today, they won’t know why, either!
The ‘Part of the Union’ song was a chart hit for The Strawbs in 1973. And what a fitting epitaph for a man whose blood pumped every day with a desire to put right the wrongs he felt were perpetrated daily against his fellow workers.
No negotiation was too much for Steve. No argument unsustainable. Whether he was fighting his corner at Mirror Group Newspapers, or as General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists and later, General Secretary of the British Association of Journalists.
finessing an argument to put before the management of other newspaper groups.
There was only one union leader to stand alongside when fighting to improve pay and conditions. Bold, assertive, combative, forensic and fearless, Steve possessed the sort of qualities that were needed for a successful negotiator, especially when in the presence of Robert Maxwell.
Unfazed by the febrile atmosphere during such negotiations, Steve would master his brief and marshall his thoughts before providing an awe-inspiring demonstration of how to argue the Union’s claims in a rational, logical and uber-competent fashion.
There wasn’t a great deal of humour in wage negotiations but I do recall one incident when Steve was Editorial Convenor. We’d been summoned to meet an editor – who shall remain nameless – and trooped into the great man’s office at 11.30 in the morning. The editor didn’t speak but gestured for us to be seated and with a wave of his hand, invited representations. During the 40-minute peroration, the editor said not a word but silently sipped from two tumblers of coke carefully positioned on either side of his large desk.
Eventually, with nothing left to say, we looked to the Editor for his reply to our demands. Not a word did he speak. His response was as it had been throughout the meeting: another glug of coke and a wave of his hand to dismiss us. Outside, Steve declared it was the most astonishing meeting he’d ever attended. “The man is either a genius or drunk!”
A few months later, I spotted the now former Editor in the The Stab and asked him why he had remained silent throughout our meeting? “I couldn’t speak,” he replied. “I was so nervous I’d already drunk two glasses of vodka and coke before we met and then drank the other two that were on my desk. I was paralytic!”
It was not only talks about pay and conditions that drove Steve to the highest levels of assiduity. He cared passionately about people. His people. Journalists of every stripe, regardless of rank, position, or political affiliations. And he cared about fairness. He recognised, perhaps more than most, just how inequable the newspaper business was. He did his utmost to change that situation. Not by constantly provoking strikes and industrial actions, but by talking – and how he could talk ! – by offering compromise, and yes, by cajoling, all the while searching for that highest ideal: fairness and equality.
Steve took those qualities to Acorn House, home of the National Union of Journalists, an organisation he had served since joining the Romford Times chapel in 1955, and in July 1990, having been the most successful Convenor and FoC at the Mirror, Steve was elected to the post of General Secretary with the highest number of votes ever recorded. The more’s the pity that those who held sway in the NUJ could not see him for what he was: an invaluable asset. They only saw a man who was not one of them. A man who benefitted from an altogether different set of values. And he was not welcome.
Even then, despite the problems besetting him at Acorn House, Steve didn’t lose his sense of fairness. When negotiating with staff representatives over some enforced redundancies, Steve listened carefully to the case put forward by the editorial representative. When the poor fellow had finished, Steve gently asked him: “Don’t you know how to negotiate? Here, let me tell you what you should be asking for…!”
With Steve gone from the Mirror, his loyal deputy FoC, the redoubtable Dick Derwent, and I took on the work that Steve had done superbly at the Mirror. Then the Mirror Pensions scandal broke… By this time, Steve had been ousted from the NUJ and was fighting them over his unfair dismissal. Nevertheless, the NUJ would come to the rescue… surely? Three weeks or so after Dick and I and Chapel officers had begun preparing for the biggest battle the staff would ever face – when everyone’s pension was on the line – I took a call from Jake Ecclestone, the NUJ’s most senior officer.
“Everything all right?” he asked.
I felt like saying: “Yeah, we lose a Mirror Publisher every other week and they ALWAYS take our pension money with them!” Instead I replied, “Um, yes, everything is fine. We’re getting there,” expecting to be told the union would wade in with its full support.
“Oh good,” said the voice on the other end of the line – and he put the phone down!
That was an epiphany moment so it was not a difficult decision to support Steve in his ambition to set up an alternative to the NUJ. He used the money he’d extracted from his beloved union to fund the start-up of the British Association of Journalists, a typically brave and selfless act.
But Steve’s life was not all about unions. He adored his wife Deborah, their daughter Rosie, and his three other children: Roy, Colin and Yvette.
I don’t believe Deborah knows this, certainly I have never told her, but late one evening Steve called me and said Deborah had disappeared. Without explanation. He was beside himself with worry, wondering what on earth could have happened. We decided to wait a while before calling the police and he went looking for her. For hours he walked the beaches and sand dunes near his home before finding Deborah safe and well. She had just needed some space to think and had gone for a long walk.
It was another revelation because all my previous experience of Steve had been to do with him helping others. Now Steve was facing his own personal demons, when he was exposed and raw; a husband and father demonstrating the love he had for his family and how much he cared about those closest to him.
I suspect that employees on the Mirror titles would struggle to acknowledge that any such feelings ran deep within another Man in the Mirror: Bob Maxwell! Did he have a human side… whilst keeping it well hidden! One evening, Maxwell telephoned Steve at home and asked to speak to Rosie, Deborah and Steve’s daughter, in order to wish her a happy birthday. Rosie was three or four at the time but could hold her own in conversation. The two of them chatted away before the Publisher asked to speak to Steve. It became a not uncommon event for Maxwell to ring and talk first to Rosie before speaking to Steve. The cynics among you will say he was to trying to break through Steve’s armour. But those who know Steve won’t be surprised to learn that whenever he entered the Publishers’ office to continue negotiations, no quarter was asked and none given.
One of the verses in ‘Part of the Union’ declares:
“So though I’m a working man I can ruin the government’s plan. Though I’m not too hard, The sight of my card Makes me some kind of superman.”
Steve Turner was a kind of superman. An individual with exceptional ability to care for his colleagues; to look after their interests; to calm their fears and to give them a belief that they were worth something – even though they felt they were worthless. He also imbued in people the courage to fight. For no matter how good a union leader, if the people you represent don’t want to fight, you cannot help them.
Not only did he apply himself vigorously and determinedly at dozens of industrial tribunals and Court hearings, he also gave important evidence to the Leveson Inquiry where he continued to represent his fellow workers, telling Leveson that many newspaper workers were wage slaves who endured a culture of bullying. He never stopped being concerned about the people he had represented so magnificently throughout his life.
As the song says,
“You don’t get me, I’m part of the union. Till the day I die.”
Whichever part of a unionised heaven that you now reside in, Steve, be sure to rest in peace…