There are those who, depending how the wind blows, drift from one ideology or creed to another as and when it suits. Others genuinely `see the light’ and gravitate towards their newly chosen doctrine… and then we have the exceptional few for whom the seed is sown very early on and remain anchored to an unwavering set of social principles and moral values for life.
For any number of reasons, some of us never moved on to higher education and left school at 15 with no qualifications and set about looking for a job. Henry Pinna was one such person, and was offered the opportunity to join dad’s business selling postcards and souvenirs. Clearly a life in the tourism trade was not on the cards for Henry: “I eventually moved on to administration, working for the stevedoring companies and port activities on the North Mole and very soon got involved in the day to day concerns that affected the working man. Very early on, I became aware of political, social and economic issues.” Henry joined the Young Christian Workers (YCW) soon after leaving school and credits Father Bernard Linares – as he was known then – as a big influence in his life: “That’s right he was a big influence. He’d just come back from Rome and he got me interested in reading history, political science philosophy and so forth and that brought with it a radical change and shift in me from what my YCW teachings had been until then.”
It was 1966 and Henry started to put pen to paper and helped launch a left wing periodical called `Social Action,’ which ran up to 1975, every single issue of which Henry proudly owns and is the only full collection in Gib. It was a newspaper in which all our ills and dirty washing were exposed, warts and all! To quote Henry, “it was educating and enriching”. Never one for standing by and let unfairness, bias and wrong doings prevail, Henry joined the TGWU and assisted in the campaign for the uncoupling of the union from the Governing party, the AACR, “Of course, how could you properly run a union that was so closely linked to the government? I became chairman of the Private Sector and was quite involved in the General Strike of 1972 when we fought for higher wages which the government, in the end, accepted.” Forever the warrior in defence of the underdog, where justified, Mr Pinna was also at the helm for the, `end to military conscription’ campaign, “Yes, I wasn’t one of the unfortunate ones who went to prison but we fought it and won in the end. By around `71 or `72 compulsory conscription ended.” Yours truly returned to the Rock in early `72 and thankfully was spared the inconvenience of donning a khaki uniform.
However, for Henry, the degree of involvement intended to better improve the social structure of our society wherever possible, has always been and still is ethics driven, high on his conscience, and pushing him to naturally get involved. Action for Housing was next in 1981, set up to help those who are badly in need of a home. “That one is an ongoing issue. To this day there are still not enough flats being built for rent. We’ve been calling for more with every administration and the issue has still not been properly addressed. Not everyone can afford to buy a flat. We’ve also been asking for a halfway house for men for a number of years now and still we don’t have one. Many may not know there are a number of men who are homeless and they’ve got nowhere to go. The Sunrise Hotel for Moroccan workers and others on Devil’s Tower Road is over-subscribed and we’re asking for two or three beds to be made available for these men. We still hold our weekly clinics on Mondays at the John Mackintosh Hall where we try to help our clients in whichever way we can.”
No resting on his laurels for Henry, clearly `the cause’ steers him on from concern to discrimination to issue and in 1982 he joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), also involved in the setting up of the Alameda Tenants Association, joined the Self Determination for Gibraltar Group (SDDG) in 1993, became our first Ombudsman in 1999 – a position he held for four years – and is presently active in the Environmental Safety Group (ESG). Also to his credit he’s been a trustee of Bruce’s Farm, Chairman of the Police Complaints Board and a member of the Housing Allocation Committee for 16 years, and some may wonder surprisingly perhaps, why he’s never been involved in, or associated with, any political party on the Rock. “I have been approached a number of times by different groupings but I’ve always declined. It’s because of my conscience. I would find it very difficult to always have to tow the party line regardless of whatever issue may arise. I prefer to make my own mistakes and not those of others. I’m not in favour of one party or another I can appreciate and denigrate both systems.” That is why no political party in Gibraltar is mistrusting or wary of Henry Pinna; he nails his colours to the mast as he sees fit without fear or favour, hence the unspoken admiration shown towards him.
Sticking with politics and our omnipresent political situation with our neighbours, Henry thinks that a Federal Europe could go some way towards solving much of the problem. “I remember the late Douglas Henrich used to say, `nothing stays as is forever!’ I say, we must not shy away from the two cultures that are the make-up of most of us here. The Spanish language, as well as English, is important for our children to learn and benefits our community and in years to come we will have a stronger community still, with the different nationalities slowly making Gibraltar their home adding to our melting pot.”
Meanwhile Henry – he of many caps – Pinna is thankful to those who, during the decades, have assisted in his endeavours. “I have to say I’m indebted to all those who, during all these years, have believed and put their trust in me in everything I’ve been involved in and I’m grateful for that.” With all he’s been involved in during that time, a lesser known fact about Henry is his creative side. Just before leaving his home he proudly showed me a large collection of plasticine figures handmade from scratch. Even the finishing `paint job’ is not paint, that too is plasticine.
So here’s another feather for his already short of space cap… This one goes for Henry the sculptor!