Michael Ivens CBE (1924-2001)

MICHAEL WILLIAM IVENS, who has died aged 77, was an ardent campaigner for free enterprise and trade union reform in the pre-Thatcher era when those causes were distinctly unfashionable.

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Ivens was director from 1971 to 1992 of Aims of Industry, a pressure group established during the Second World War by Lord Beaverbrook and other business leaders to combat the advance of socialism on the shop floor. Aims had campaigned against the post-war Labour government’s nationalisation programme, and under the Wilson and Callaghan administrations it stood up both for employers and for individual workers against the might of the unions. Ivens was particularly associated with opposition to the National Dock Labour Scheme, the closed-shop arrangement which kept casual workers out of the docks: Margaret Thatcher, who abolished it, called it “that monument to modern Luddism”.

In 1975, Ivens was also a founder, with Norris McWhirter and Viscount de L’Isle VC, of the National Association for Freedom (NAFF, now the Freedom Association) to campaign against all forms of abuse of individual freedom, particularly from overweening union power. The association established its name through its support of three railwaymen dismissed for refusing to join a union, and achieved a membership, at its peak, of 20,000. It went on to fight an action to prevent British post office unions from boycotting mail to South Africa, and in 1977 it played a prominent role in the Grunwick dispute.

Grunwick was a photo-processing business in north London owned by an Anglo-Indian entrepreneur who had dismissed a number of immigrant workers after a walk-out. The APEX trade union signed up the sacked workers, demanded recognition at the plant, and organised mass pickets which rapidly turned violent. The majority of Grunwick workers – mostly veiled Asian women – who did not want to be unionised had to be bussed in each day through a hail of abuse. Grunwick’s outgoing mail, containing the developed films on which the business depended, was “blacked” by postal unions and had to be smuggled out and discreetly posted elsewhere by NAFF volunteers.

Without NAFF, Grunwick would almost certainly have gone bankrupt. For his part in the campaign Ivens was condemned by the Communist Morning Star newspaper as “one of the three most dangerous men in Britain” – an accolade which he quoted with pride.

Ivens specialised in campaign tactics rather than academic argument, but he was also an accomplished writer – and far removed from the conventional image of a Right-wing activist. On issues of immigration and law and order, he held relatively liberal views: he was a member of the Howard League for Penal Reform, and on one occasion gave both a job and a home to a former Broadmoor inmate. He was also director for 25 years of the Foundation for Business Responsibilities, which promoted notions of corporate obligation towards employees and suppliers as well as shareholders.

Ivens was especially proud to have had one of his poems chosen by Philip Larkin for the Oxford Book of Twentieth Century Verse. It was titled First Day at School, and recalled “the large boy” hurling Ivens’s ball over a roof:

Unstintingly / I gave him / my admiration / As others have done / when their respect / money / virginity / honour hope and lives / have been hurled / triumphantly out of sight

Michael William Ivens was born on March 15 1924. His father, a salesman, came from Aston in Birmingham; his mother was Jewish. Part of his childhood was spent in Australia, but he returned to complete a shortened education at the Quinton School in London, associated with the Regent Street Polytechnic.

During the Second World War Ivens served with the East Surrey Regiment in Palestine in the British Mandate administration: his last duty as a captain was to supervise the return to Cyprus of former concentration camp inmates arriving in Palestine with inadequate documents. He expressed his distaste first by absenting himself without leave to stay on a kibbutz and later in a striking poem, Haifa Bay in the Morning.

As a young man, Ivens had flirted with anarchism, and he remained throughout his life a free-thinking outsider rather than an establishment figure. After demobilisation he went to work for a Soho magazine publisher called Kaplan, becoming editor and writer-in-chief of a magazine called Sports Reporter. There he recalled trying but failing to recruit Brian Glanville, then a reporter for a rival weekly and later the doyen of Fleet Street football correspondents; the 17 year-old Glanville had demanded two guineas an article, well in excess of Kaplan’s rates.

Ivens moved on to work for Esso, where among other jobs he edited the staff magazine. In the 1960s he turned increasingly to writing, publishing a series of works on management and industrial communication, including Case for Capitalism in 1967 and Industry and Values (1970). In that year he became joint founding editor and columnist of a literary and political magazine, Twentieth Century, and soon afterwards he went to work for Aims of Industry. He left to work for a year as a director of Standard Telephone before returning as director of Aims (known in the mid-1970s as Aims for Freedom & Enterprise) in 1971.

As well as exposing trade union abuses, he maintained a long-running Aims campaign against nationalisation: the scuppering of the Callaghan government’s plan to nationalise the Bristol ship repair yard was at least partly due to his lobbying. Later he espoused the cause of “contracting out” of central and local government services to combat what he called “the disease of direct labour”.

After retiring in 1992, Ivens later redesignated himself as “consultant” to Aims of Industry, and the organisation – having seen the victory of its free enterprise philosophy – withered away. In recent years, both Aims and the Freedom Association (of which Ivens was vice-president) were associated with campaigns against joining the euro and for renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership.

Ivens was a founder, in 1969, of the Junior Hospital Doctors Association, formed to combat the closed-shop tendencies of the British Medical Association, and of the Foundation for the Study of Terrorism in 1986. He was a member of the advisory council of the Airey Neave Foundation.

He was treasurer of the Poetry Society from 1989 to 1991, helping to rescue it from financial difficulties. He published six volumes of poetry: Another Sky (1963), Last Waltz (1964), Private and Public (1968), Born Early (1975), No Woman is an Island (1983), and New Divine Comedy (1990). A devout Catholic, he developed an interest in later years in religious mysticism.

He was appointed CBE in 1983.

He married first, in 1950, Rosalie Turnbull; they had three sons – of whom one predeceased him – and a daughter. The marriage was dissolved and he married secondly, in 1971, Katherine Laurence, [See Post: Kate Ivens – Education Reformer] by whom he had two more sons.

[Source: Telegraph Obituaries]

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One response to “Michael Ivens CBE (1924-2001)

  1. Pingback: Katie Ivens – Education reformer | All about Ivens·

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