Measure Twice, Cut Once
by Jon Tait
When I was 17, the builder’s leader Albert Williams told me to get off site and go and get a degree, swap the sawdust and hard hat for books and a mortar board, and I should have said then that the only mortar board I’d be seeing would be dolloped in pink plaster; but I squatted on Sandtex buckets, and dug holes with a spade, and watched the grey cement slop and spin around in a mixer for another decade before going back to college. The movement needs people with an education, he wrote, on UCATT headed paper, the three creases on the page yellowed and left in the back of a drawer neglected as an elderly war veteran in a council care home. Take the tape, mark a line in thick joiner’s pencil from behind the lug, reel it back with a snap and count the lines again. But cut with caution, never certain in the finality of the measure. There is no going back. The three piece tweed jackets are gone, the clasped hands of the Builders’ Labourers, the slogans: Organise, Agitate, Act! and Union – no dogs nor blacklegs need apply. We were once a blue boiler suit and a black donkey jacket, we were flat caps and ex-Army bags, now a paint-splattered radio tuned to Six. We are the irreverent laughter that greets the pomp and ceremony of a Graduation, from up high on a scaffolding.