BARRIE HUDSON meets the people behind the news. Today he talks to Swindon GMB union branch secretary Andy Newman, 50, who was in the news because of possible strike action by Carillion staff at the Great Western Hospital, who accused bosses of bullying.

“I WENT to King Edward’s School in Bath. I was a state-funded pupil in a private school, which nowadays no longer happens.

“It was a funny school – I’m sure it’s very good academically, but back in the 1970s they were still very, very stuck in the past. They were bringing people up with the idea that they’d go off and run the empire.

“I felt very much at sea there, both because I had a left wing background from my parents and because even as a child I knew that world no longer existed.”

Andy Newman’s time as a grant-funded boy from a working class background at a prestigious private school may have been a formative experience, but his basic views on right and wrong, justice and injustice, had begun to take shape much earlier.

“I think it was my raising,” he recalled. “My parents were left wing people and there were political discussions in the house always.”

Andy’s late father worked for a car parts firm and served in the Army during the Second World War, including stints in Northern Ireland and later India and Iraq. Andy’s mother was an Army pay clerk when the couple met, and had briefly been a member of the Communist Party. Both were strong Labour Party supporters. Andy is the youngest of their four children.

Asked whether any event had especially shaped his beliefs, he said: “I think that there is one thing, but it’s family folklore. My mother’s mother died of malnutrition in the 1930s – she died in childbirth because of malnutrition. My granddad had been unemployed in the 1930s, and I think that sort of fact, and the fact that Britain was this huge, rich imperial power and could have people suffering this much, meant that something had to be done. It was a gradual awareness of justice and injustice.”

Andy’s first home was in Wimbledon, his place of birth, and the family moved to Saltford, between Bath and Bristol, when he was seven.

His stint at King Edward’s School ended when the government of the time ended the grant scheme that had enabled him to attend, and he studied for A-levels at a local college.

Working first as a hospital porter and later for a building society, he went to the old Bristol Polytechnic in his late 20s, obtaining the qualifications needed to become a telecommunications engineer.

Although always interested in politics and social justice, it was the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that led him to take a more active role, becoming a leading figure in the Stop the War movement.

“I thought the Labour Party made a terrible decision to go into that war. We drew quite a broad consensus of support, from vicars and Conservatives – not that vicars are always Conservatives! – to people on the far left.”

His trade union activities are based, he insists, on the principle that industrial action should only ever be a last resort, and that negotiation is vital.

“We’re very much aware that it’s not in our members’ interests to make a company less competitive. Everybody wants their job and everybody wants secure employment.”

In and out of the Labour Party for various ideological reasons since the age of 14, Andy is now reconciled with it to the extent that he plans to stand for election as a councillor next year.

He has no national political ambitions, though, and prefers to focus on the town he says he has long since grown to love.

“It’s so welcoming to newcomers,” he said. “Other places, if your grandparents don’t come from there you’re not a local, but here if you step off the train you’re part of the community. Insofar as I have any political ambition, it’s promoting Swindon.”