From an Obituary in the Guardian
- Michael Ivens, who has died aged 77, was a libertarian best known for his campaigns against trade union power in the 1970s, especially as director of Aims of Industry (1971-92), a position he used to promote rightwing views on business freedom, privatisation and the evils of the closed shop. He was also prominent in other rightwing organisations, including what is now the Freedom Association, which he helped to set up in 1975.
- But while fiercely opposed to trade unions overriding individual rights, Ivens was not a conventional believer in full-blooded capitalism. In the early 1970s, he co-authored a pamphlet arguing that business had responsibilities to different stakeholders, including employees and suppliers. This viewpoint was briefly pursued through the Foundation for Business Responsibilities, although Ivens, whose second wife, Katy, was a Westminster councillor, resigned from the group after it was implicated in the scandal over Westminster council's gerrymandering at the end of the 1990s....
- In the 1960s, he edited the Esso staff magazine, and developed an interest in business, which combined with his politics to create a philosophy bringing together individual liberty and corporate responsibility. This led to the anti-union stance, based on a distaste for subsuming individualism to a collective organisation, a philosophy set out in pamphlets such as The Case For Capitalism and Industry and Values.
- Fears about the supposed socialist takeover led some on the eccentric right, including some former senior military officers, to begin talking in terms of counter- revolution. This kind of activity was sponsored by a collection of organisations, one of the least shadowy being the National Association for Freedom (Naff), now the Freedom Association, which was founded in 1975 by Ivens, Colonel Juan Hobbs, of British United Industrialists, Viscount de L'Isle and Norris McWhirter.
- Naff's crowning glory was the battle over Grunwick, a photo processing lab in north London where an industrial dispute over union representation blew up into a cause celebre in 1976. The dispute saw mass picketing, including Arthur Scargill's miners, and court actions by the company, which were financed by Naff. The organisation was widely credited with winning a small business victory against trade union might, and the affair prepared the ground for the Conservatives' anti-union legislation of the 1980s.
- Once Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, groups like Naff and Aims of Industry faded away somewhat. Ivens switched his attention, first, to privatisation - and especially contracting out local authorities' direct labour organisations - and, latterly, to the European Union. In the 1997 general election, he was involved in a shadowy group known as Entrepreneurs for a Booming Britain, which placed full-page newspaper advertisements supporting John Major.
- Michael William Ivens, campaigner, journalist and poet, born March 15 1924; died November 4 2001
From an obituary in the Independent by Ralph Harris:
- WHEN Michael Ivens took over as Director of the campaigning organisation Aims of Industry in 1971, he could hardly have expected to witness the wholesale denationalisation of industries taken into state ownership by the post-war Labour government of 1945. In 25 years the group's main success had been the high- profile campaign to save Tate & Lyle, under the slogan "Tate Not State", supported by a clever game with dice which looked like cubes of sugar.
- Under the all-party consensus on "mixed economy", even Tory governments showed no interest in "turning the clock back", despite Ivens's warning that if Labour continued "to move five steps towards total nationalisation, while succeeding Conservative administrations take only a faltering half- step back, [it] must lead to a State society by the end of the century". Yet before 1979 he remained completely undaunted by failure. Instead, he revelled in the battle, alternating the gusto of pamphleteering, cheeky press releases and cartoons with the guile of sponsoring serious lectures, witty send- ups of left-wingers, and brains trusts at Butlin's holiday camps, always with an unexpected Labour MP on the platform.
- Seldom without a twinkle in his eye and always ready for a party - or a jolly argument - he might be, but beneath all his banter and love of debate, there was a deadly serious purpose, pursued with dedication. Perhaps because he was by temperament amiable, placid, companionable and poetry- loving, Ivens was moved by a deep hatred of coercion in any form.
- He once described himself as an "inverted Marxist". Marx, he thought, was correct in emphasising the link between economic structures and the cultural values of society. The only trouble was that the founder of Communism had got it exactly wrong: "Just as Marx had stood Hegel on his head, so it is necessary to stand Marx on his, and recognise that free enterprise and individual ownership are necessary to freedom. And, contrariwise, a State society is an unfree one."
- Next to nationalisation, Ivens saw the principal enemies of individual freedom as monopoly trade unions which had the whip hand over both their members and the employers through the ultimate coercion of the closed shop. A worker deprived of his union card was denied the freedom to practise his chosen craft, and he could be sacked if he refused to join a strike that militant shop stewards declared to be official. Then there was all the bullying and beastliness of so-called peaceful picketing. Ivens mischievously enjoyed quoting Sidney Webb on the feudal legal privileges of British unions.
- For Ivens, such union abuses were nowhere more sinister than in the newspaper industry, where he saw restrictive practices, over- manning and obstruction to technical progress as threatening the very survival of a vigorous free press. When he was not exposing the print unions, he was campaigning against the dockers' unions which first drove shippers to escape restrictive practices by moving away from the waterside to pack and unpack giant containers, and then fought for legislation to declare the inland areas to be part of the docks! Here was one battle that Ivens won.
- In 1975, he set up the National Association for Freedom (later Freedom Association) with the charismatic VC Viscount De L'Isle as chairman and Norris McWhirter as vice-chairman in place of his twin brother Ross, who had been assassinated by the IRA a few days before the public launch. Within a year the association leapt to prominence with a prolonged legal action to defend three railway workers who were sacked for refusing to join the union. They were later upheld by the European Court of Human Rights, which prompted the Thatcher government to ban the closed shop and compensate more than 400 railwaymen for loss of earnings.
- The following year, the association was embroiled in the violent strike over Grunwick where Arthur Scargill's mass picket against mostly Asian women was briefly augmented by Shirley Williams, then a Labour MP and described by Max Beloff as "the Madonna of the picket line". Ivens enjoyed retelling that the Communist Morning Star described him as one of the three most dangerous men in Britain.
- Although a doughty fighter for free enterprise, Ivens wrote sensitively on human relations in industry and was simultaneously Director of the Foundation for Business Responsibilities (1967-92). With Frank Taylor of Taylor Woodrow he launched the Working Together Campaign. He was a member of the Howard League for Penal Reform. And few knew of his generosity for lame ducks, which extended even to taking into his home disgraced ex-prisoners like Harold Wilson's friend Lord Kagan.
- Another apparently conflicting interest was Ivens's enthusiasm for new poetry: he was a council member and treasurer of the Poetry Society, 1989- 91, and published six collections of verse between 1963 and 1990. Yet there was no contradiction. In 1979 he quoted William James's essay on "A Certain Blindness in Human Beings" as applicable to the mutual lack of sympathy between businessmen and intellectuals. Like poets, intellectuals take for granted the need for freedom in producing books, films and works of art, yet "do not see the imaginative needs of businessmen, and especially of the first- generation entrepreneur, who in many ways has kinship to the artist".
- In the Second World War Ivens had served in the Army and as duty captain in Palestine showed his independence by refusing to take part in removing Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe back to Cyprus for lack of formal immigration papers.
- The whole of Michael Ivens's life can be seen as an unorthodox voyage of discovery. Born in 1924, the son of a salesman and Jewish mother, he was later to become a Catholic. His parents took him to Australia as intended immigrants but returned to England where he completed his education, leaving school at 14. He appears to have wandered into journalism, and worked as editor of Sports Reporter before becoming founding editor in 1967 of a literary current- affairs magazine, Twentieth Century.
- In 1954 he launched himself into industry, joining the communications department of Esso, which inspired a number of books and many articles on modern management methods. In 1970 he was invited to join the board of Standard Telephones and Cables. The following year he became Director of Aims of Industry.
- An early initiative was the annual Free Enterprise Award, given mostly to leading businessmen. His own intellectual preferences were revealed by naming among the first winners Margaret Thatcher's mentor Sir Keith Joseph, followed later by a succession of Institute of Economic Affairs personalities, including Ralph Harris, Arthur and Marjorie Seldon, and last year the present General Director, John Blundell. These choices reinforced Seldon's quip that the IEA provided the long-range, high-level intellectual artillery, while the Aims men (largely Michael Ivens) stood ever ready in the trenches as the poor, bloody infantry, impatient to fix bayonets.
- After 1979, Ivens had the satisfaction of seeing Margaret Thatcher fulfil many of his war aims by extensive denationalisation and dismantling trade- union legal privileges. His friends might agree that, like many other early Thatcherites, he deserved more than being appointed CBE in 1983.
- Michael William Ivens, poet, journalist and political campaigner: born Birmingham 15 March 1924; Director, Foundation for Business Responsibilities 1967-92; Director, Aims of Industry 1971-94, Consultant 1994-2001; CBE 1983; married 1950 Rosalie Turnbull (two sons, one daughter, and one son deceased; marriage dissolved 1971), 1971 Katherine Laurence (two sons); died London 4 November 2001.
Affiliations and Connections
- Aims of Industry
- Industrial and Educational Research Foundation
- Foundation for Business Responsibilities
- Martin Ivens, Times journalist, Son.