A funeral, I’m sorry to say, that used to be like a luxury, to have a funeral
Teeside Boy In 1939, as a kid, you were still living in an age when Britannia ruled the waves. You didn’t know anything about anything else. At school they taught you England was supreme. “We rule India.” “The sun never sets on bloody Empire.”
London Boy I was always sure an Englishman was worth possibly two Germans, at least four French, twenty Arabs, forty Italians and an incalculable number of Indians.
Teeside Boy In school there was no question of England being wrong. All it was was “Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves.” At the same time I lived in a semi-bloody slum.
Arran Farmer In the 1920’s and the 1930’s, especially for the small farmer, his lot was as far down as it possibly could be. We were living at a living standard which was absolutely impossible to think about. We were growing potatoes as a cash crop, but it became impossible because we weren’t getting any money for them. The last potatoes that we sold in the 1930’s, before we stopped growing them altogether, we got what was considered a generous price – 25 shillings a ton. By the time we got them bagged (and you had to dress them, that was first class ware), by the time we got them carted to the pier, transported down – you were lucky if you got ten to fourteen shillings to yourself. It was absolutely uneconomical. The same as milk. You got 2d (tuppence) a pint –
His Sister Penny a pint
Arran Farmer – There was a certain amount of cut price war and some were selling their milk as cheaply as 2d a pint. You can’t make a living out of that.
Somerset Farmer I was working for my father before the war. He was working for his father and we had to go with what the farmer did before him. The Depression hit our milk. This was the milk producing county and my father was selling milk at 4d and 5d and 6d a gallon. That was rock bottom.
Oxford Boy I left school at 14 – it was ’round about the time of the Jubilee, the Spanish Civil War. There was a lot of unemployment about. People couldn’t afford things. In those days, when a funeral happened, I’m sorry to say, that used to be like a luxury, to have a funeral, like when my Uncle died, there was a real feast, big hams and everything. Unemployment was very bad in Oxford but I got a job because I was apprenticed. My grand-father had put down a premium for me to be apprenticed to the College Kitchen. I was in the College Kitchen – New College. It was terrible – the hours and conditions. You got five shillings a week. You had to laundry your whites. It was seven days a week. Start at quarter past seven, you worked through to the afternoon and then you went back at night. Seven days a week during term. It was hard work. The College kitchen was like a massive church. Your training was one term on with the entree, one term with the roast, and the next term with the pastry cook, and so on. On Sundays you made fishcakes. I was one of three apprentices. The Chef was a terror – he was always drinking whisky.
There wasn’t much tin opening in those days. It was all cooked fresh. They used to get this dripping, meat dripping, they used to collect it. During the night you had a lot of crickets jumping about and they used to jump into the fat, and I’ve known a mouse drop into it. They used to melt it down and I’ve known it be sent to the butchers. Oh yes.
You got all these dinner parties, and you got treated like dirt. These dinner parties went on ’til ten o’ clock, eleven o’clock. In the vacation you had a few days off, but not like they do today. What happened was, at vacation you had conferences come up. There are a lot of women in Oxford who say it was a good job, but I don’t think it was good at all. Some of them went away during the summer and worked on the coast, hotels and that. And the rest of us they kept on. I stuck it for about four years. I didn’t finish my apprenticeship.
Co.Durham Schoolgirl About the first recollection I can remember was at three my father taking me to see the cage going down for the first time after being on strike so long – the ’26 strike. (1) It was so important. I can’t remember him being off work after that, apart from making them work short-time: two days a week, three days a week. To get any Benefit they used to have to have three days lying on at the dole before you could claim anything, so they would work them four days, so that meant you only had two days lying on. You couldn’t qualify and you only had four days to live on. Then the next week they’d mebbe work you a full week, or you might have another odd day. In them days they were lucky if they were bringing in £2 a week. Everything to do out of it. Sugar may only have been three ha’ pence a pound, but when you had four to feed and clothe…
I was living in a household where it was all men, and the women had to keep their place. As girls we had no social life. When I was eleven or twelve I used to come home when I liked. I’ve seen my father come up and drag me out of – (Audrey and I used to go to a friend’s house – a married woman’s house, she used to do chips and things) – and he’s been belting me all the way down home – “I’ll learn you to come out at this time of night.” Next night I’d do the same again. I used to defy my father. Audrey, my friend, she went to Hexham to get work. She started in a baker’s shop and Jenny, another friend, went into nursing. There was nothing much else. For the boys it was the colliery or farmwork.
Staffordshire Miner When I started work I was thirteen years old, in north Staffordshire. There was no case of ‘following’ my father down the pit. It’s a mining district. There was seventy-two pits in it. Nothing for lads to do – either go down the mine or get into the army. Farm work was for farmers, not for us.
Unions didn’t kick off proper until after 1930 odd, despite the ’26 strike. You could please yourself whether you was in the union or whether you wasn’t. At that time you was travelling from place to place. A lot of owners didn’t like it and a lot of men didn’t like it, ‘cos you was depriving them of their livelihood. You go into a village where they was all miners and you being a stranger, in some parts they flew after you, ‘cos you knew all the different coal, you knew the workings of it. Everybody from all over was travelling. From South Wales, from North Wales, from Nottingham, Durham, Yorkshire – you’d get all sorts mingling together. Mind, if you went working with a Welsh team – Ooh! They was prejudiced. They wouldn’t speak English to you. They’d start off in Welsh. Then you got the Durhamers and you couldn’t understand them ‘cos they’d be talking Geordie. These men travelling around like this weren’t all single. There was married men with families too. It was called working for the biggest penny.
London Boy I worked at Sainsbury’s from leaving school. I started at Upton Lane, which was a small shop. I started as an egg boy. I stood out the front in the freezing weather. The wind used to come round that corner. The customers used to go to the manager: “That poor boy out there.” I used to have red cheeks, real plump when I was a kid. I got ten bob a week. At 21 I passed my exams at Sainsbury’s. The exam was an interview and also written, like where stuff came from, and tapioca before it’s prepared for the table is deadly poison – all that sort of stuff. And then you had to go for exams for the butchery trade and the poultry trade and game, because we used to do game in those days. At 22 I was transferred to Ilford High Road, and from Ilford I went to Cranbrook. I was promoted there – as the sort of Assistant Manager. “First Hand”, that’s how it was classed in those days. The Cranbrook was the place. They used to roll up in their Rolls Royces and the chauffeur used to get out and the old girl would walk in with a gold topped walking cane, and she’d point to the game hanging up outside. Whatever she wanted – the hares, or the pigeons or the pheasants.
Your uniform was all stiff collars and clean nails. We used to work late all the Christmas week. Trussing the turkeys, all that sort of thing. On Christmas Eve you’d work right through the night. You used to do double the work and got double the money for it. They classed it as a Christmas Box, but you had to work for it. It was a good firm Sainsbury’s. No doubt about it.
Manchester Boy My parents had a thing about me. All my relatives were high officials in the police force. They sent me to a special college at Sheffield, a college called Bennett College (after the war I think they were still going but they went into this Mail education) but before the war they specialised in training students for the Police Force. The Mobile Police was very hard to get in to. Your IQ had to be a lot higher; you had to be a fair mechanic; you had to be an expert driver. You had to be the correct height. They wouldn’t give a quarter of an inch.
I passed out – I did six months at Yatterson’s Row Police Station, and then about in 1934 I think it was, I went down into town to the Royal Navy Recruiting Office and I joined the Royal Navy! When I was a kid I wasn’t allowed to play football. I had to go upstairs and swot. This was what made me rebel. You see, I’d always loved the sea. I’d been in the RNVR, and once I was in the navy I had no obstacles at all. I was soon promoted. In fact just as war was about to break out I was the youngest CPO in the British navy.
In the navy, up to the war breaking out, you went on a tour of duty to the Middle East and the Far East. You always did courtesy calls to Hong Kong and Singapore and so on. I’ve seen when we’ve tied up in shore and me and the First Officer used to have bets and I always used to win who’d be off the gangplank and who’d be first at the Government brothel up the main street. I always won and it was always the same bloke – it was always Smith. He was only a little feller. At one port we came in – Hong Kong – I said “How’ve you got on Smith. Have you enjoyed your stay here?” It was just before the war. He said “I’ve had a belting time. I’ve had eleven women and two men.” He was a dirty buggar.
I used to get 3 to 6 month tour of duties. I’d go on one ship and be dropped at Singapore and do administration word. Lads like me, we used to get a good billet and we used to go boating – dingy boating. It was a bloody ideal life you know.
During the thirties I was on the road as a tramp for a time
Tramp During the thirties I was on the road as a tramp for a time. Many of the men on the road were ex-servicemen who either hadn’t been able to settle down after the Great War or hadn’t been able to get work. Some were men who had lost their jobs in the Depression years. I met a schoolmaster who had found himself out of a job in 1931 and had taken to the road. I met an ex-public school man who hadn’t been able to find a job.
I lived in Casual Wards. We used to call them spikes or derricks. In those days we came under what was known as the Vagrancy Act of 1834, which was passed in the reign of Queen Anne. (2) The rules and regulations were incredible. I couldn’t remember them now – there were hundreds of them. But the fact is, if a tramp went into a Casual Ward on an evening he had to stay two nights and do a day’s work the next day. All the rules were enforced by the Ministry of Health. If you didn’t stay the two nights as you were supposed to do and absconded you could be arrested by the police and taken before the court and charged with being a rogue and a vagabond. If you arrived at a spike on a Friday evening you had to stay until Monday morning. You didn’t work on a Sunday.
Some spikes very good – the one at Plymouth, for example was very well run. A beautiful clean place with gas fires in all the bedrooms, with straw mattresses and sheets, but the superintendent was very strict. People worked quite hard and discipline was tough. Some spikes were known to dossers as “Home Rulers”. There was Tavistock and Tiverton in Devon where nobody ever had a bath, so they were crawling with lice, but all dossers liked Tavistock and Tiverton because there were no rules and regulations. You could take food in with you. You could go straight to bed. But you were expected to work the next day. Although “Home Rulers” were liked by dossers the superintendent still wanted his pound of flesh out of you. But most of the spikes were very strict in keeping to the regulations laid down by the Ministry.
Devon in a sense was a haven for tramps. There were spikes every fifteen miles and on the whole they were pretty good. The police in fact put up notices all over Devon urging people not to give anything to tramps because they were well looked after in the Casual Wards. As I say, I met all sorts of people on the road and often on a Sunday in a spike we’d sit around talking, discussing the political situation.
It’s hard to say it, but in Middlesbrough you’ve got a cult of mediocrity
London Schoolboy You were all in one school until you were eleven. Then you had what they called a Junior Preliminary Examination. If you passed this you went into a Grammar School. If you passed this it was considered very unusual. For instance, in Tower Hamlets, there was only three people in the whole area passed. Everybody in the whole area talked about you – how brilliant you was. Grammar schools were for the lower middle classes only. If an ordinary person got into it, he was really exceptional. And you felt it yourself, when you was there. The attitude of the children there was different from the attitude of the children in the previous school. And the clothing. It also gave the person who passed a different attitude on clothing. It was uncommon for the average working class child of that age to wear a collar and tie – you used to wear a jersey, with tie to match. But when you went to the Grammar school you had a shirt and tie and a suit. In fact, other kids took the piss out of you, and in some cases attacked you if you wasn’t able to defend yourself.
Teeside Schoolboy Most of the people you see in Teeside revel in being nothing. “I am nothing”. What they do is go out on bloody piss. “I’m nowt, I’m going to be nowt.” I lived in a council estate and if you dug your heels in and start doing your homework, all kids ’round start “Ooh, look at him. Fucking brainy bastard aren’t you?” Whatever school you go to you’ve got to wear the school hat, so any lad that wants to get out of the bloody environment, he’s got to run the gauntlet. As he goes for the school bus they’re stoning him and braining him and thrashing him. Just a simple ordinary working lad trying to get up out of fucking mire. That’s how it was when I was a kid. It’s hard to say it, but in Middlesbrough you’ve got a cult of mediocrity, where kids don’t rise above, even though they know their own potential.
Liverpool Girl We used to go to Night School just before the war. We didn’t go to learn anything, we went because there was always a gang of lads down there. We were about thirteen or fourteen. It was in town. We’d gone to Night School this night and we were fed up because all the lads had gone. They’d joined up in the Prince of Wales volunteers. They were stationed at Warrington. We had 2d and 2d was a lot of money. We came out of Night School and we went to a phone box in Islington Square. There were four of us. “Come on”, I said, “we’ll phone the Warrington Barracks up.” We put the 2d in and the operator said “It’s 4d to Warrington.” We didn’t have another bean. We saw some of the gang we knew and we come out to ask them to lend us another 2d. We said to the operator “Hang on a minute.” Come out to ask this other gang for the lend of a 2d and the next minute the phone box went up – Blown up!
We lived a good two miles from Islington Square, in Cardwell Street. It was near eleven when we got home. I got a hiding for being late. The following week I’d been out with my mates and I come back, late again as usual, and coming up, halfway up the road I see a car outside the door. I thought “Ooh, is my Mum ill?” I thought it was a doctor’s car. I run up the next part of the road, up the path and the front door was open and as I run in four men run in, in front of me. I thought “What the heck’s going on here?” No sooner was I in than one says to me “Where’d you get the bomb from?”
I’d forgotten about it. “What bomb?” “The bomb you put in Islington Square kiosk.” “Me?” They’d already been to my friend’s house making enquiries. It all boiled down that they said to us that we made a phone call to Warrington barracks at twenty-two minutes past ten, and at twenty-three minutes the kiosk went up. Being young, I said to the detective “If we’d put another 2d in we’d have gone up with it. Where the heck we’d get a bomb from?” It was the IRA who was doing this at the time. They were blowing up all kiosks and postboxes, and the four of us who had been in the kiosk all had Irish names. My name was McGuinness, there was two Walshes and Pat Mylett. How they found our names I don’t know because we’d never lived ’round there and no-one knew us by name. We never heard any more of it, but it just shows how you can be roped in and be quite innocent.
I said to my father “Why are you so bitter about the Jews?”
Glasgow Girl My father criticised the Jews, particularly the Governor of the Bank of England, who was Montague Norman, a Jew. On the front of Abundance, the Social Credit (3) newspaper was a colossal spider all over Britain – that was the illustration – and the face of the spider was Montague Norman. I said to my father “Why are you so bitter about the Jews?” “I’m not bitter about the Jews in general” he said, ‘in fact there’s one or two Jews in the Social Credit movement. But they have an insular habit that keeps them together, they refuse to communicate with other nations.”
London Boy When I was a kid I used to live around the Stamford Hill area. Being in a Jewish family I used to hear what Hitler was doing and saying. I used to hear Hitler’s speeches. It was nothing new to me, that Hitler was saying these things, because by and large the general atmosphere at school and around was similar in England. When I was at school I was continually ribbed. Even the teachers were anti-semitic. Living today one can’t realise the extent of anti-semitism when I was a kid. You were made to feel rotten. My father, apparently, it was even worse for him. As a result you got the reaction that a lot of Jewish people didn’t trust Gentiles at all. I was brought up with that. “Don’t trust them. The Gentiles around you will say all sorts of nice things, but when you shake them up, at rock bottom they’re deeply anti-semitic.” So that when Hitler was doing it, it all fell into place.
If you was brought up in a Jewish family it was part of the tradition – on the Passover every year they used to say “Let us hope that this time next year will see us back in the land of Israel.” People were upset, of course, that Hitler was doing these things, but as a kid I felt that what was happening in Germany was just a continuity of what was happening here with Oswald Mosley. (4)
My old man was the secretary of the Conservative Association in Stamford Hill. He had all sorts of illusions. With other Jewish Conservatives he had gone over to Chelsea Barracks to visit Oswald Mosley to ask why he was being anti-semitic. Mosley assured him that he wasn’t anti-semitic, that his was a fascism like Mussolini, and that the only reason he was reacting anti-semitically was because Jewish people were having a go at him. And my old man believed him! For a while. He began to campaign to try and stop Jews being so antagonistic.
Leeds Man On one occasion the fascists mounted a campaign of smashing the windows of Jewish shops. They did it using catapults and pebbles. From the other side of the road they’d smash a window and hide the catapult and walk off like an ordinary passer-by. The Jewish people started putting shutters up over the windows.
At that time the Communist Party in Leeds had a bookshop on Woodhouse Lane and they smashed our window. It was not long after the bombing of Guernica, so we put a big painted poster right across the window: “The same fascists who killed the women and children of Guernica are the same type of creeps who creep up in the night and smash the windows of inoffensive shopkeepers.” The police came to us. It was an Inspector Collins. “Can you give us any information? Our men are having to do extra night duty watching Jewish shops. We don’t want to tolerate this sort of business.”
One evening about 5 o’ clock I’m upstairs – the Communist Party offices were above the bookshop – and the lad in the bookshop calls up and calls me down. Outside some blokes are standing, threatening. I go out and there’s about fifteen of them: fascists, demanding we take down the poster. I told them to bugger off. Right opposite us was a tailor’s shop called Jack Fritz and he could see this crowd, and although I didn’t know at the time, he phoned the police. One of these BUF (5) men tore the poster. I’m in the alcove and another one steps forward to give me a thump. Instead, I gave him one, and put him out. At the time I was not only an amateur weight lifter, I was also a judo instructor. There was a lad with me upstairs – Phil Ellis – and he came running down as soon as he heard shouting. (He went to Spain a few weeks later and was killed). We waded into these BUF. They weren’t so bright. I gave three or four them a really bad pasting. By the time the police came they had disappeared quickly. The police said “Will you prosecute?” “Yes.”
The BUF brought a barrister up from London called Raven-Thompson. He used to write regularly for the Blackshirt – Captain Raven-Thompson. I went into the witness box and he asked me if any of them had struck me and I said “No.” “And did you strike anybody?” I said “Yes.” He then said I was the one who should be prosecuted for assault. But the magistrate said he was stood on his own premises, he were defending himself. About eight of them got fined forty bob for causing an affray, forty bob for disturbing the peace, forty bob for destroying private property, and another was fined for conspiracy, and he was the secretary. (6) He wasn’t there but in the witness box he admitted that he knew they were going up. That stopped the window smashing.
London Art Student There used to be street corner meetings at the corner of our street, Sebert Road, right opposite Forest Gate Station. I can remember standing listening to a Communist speaker one night and a Fascist the other night, and be absolutely unmoved by either of them. It meant nothing to me. I was interested in Art, and that was all.
Liverpool Girl You used to have meetings twice a week in Islington Square. I think it was the fascists or something, the Economic League (7) and Leo McCrea and all them. I used to go and watch them because we thought it was fun. You’d get belted if your Mum and Dad knew you’d been. Once there was a little van and it had “Economic League” written on it, and the feller was standing on this van preaching, and there’s be a couple of hundred people round, and you’d get fellers that didn’t agree with what the feller was saying, so the next thing was, his van was turned upside down and there was trouble. As a kid you thought that was fun.
East London Schoolboy I lived in a 20 roomed house in the Highway, Stepney. It was called the Big House. It was a tenement house. It was very old. Living in this house was four families. Everybody was extroverts, by virtue that it was a commune of the ’30’s. A commune by economic necessity. For instance, when my father was ill or my mother, you were allowed to eat anybody’s food in anybody’s home. There was only one radio in the whole of the house. It was a communal house.
One family – a really fantastic family were called the Goodwins. Their mother and father had died and the elder sister Florrie took over the family. Two of the brothers were regular soldiers. But one was in the Blackshirts. Although I was afraid of the Blackshirts, I wasn’t afraid of him, even though I had seen him in his uniform. We had a roof where you could come out of the attic window and there was a parapet and you could watch the Blackshirts marching. They had torches and uniforms. Their uniforms were a bit mixed up. It was generally a shirt and trousers – black. Only their officers had belts. They had drums and they had armoured cars. I can recall looking over the parapet seeing them – now of course I realise that they couldn’t see me – but going back in the house in case they could see me.
East London Schoolgirl I saw them march a couple of times. I was a bit frightened of them. Everybody said “The Blackshirts!”, but everybody rushed out to see them all the same. Then there was that day my Dad said that none of us was to go out on the street on that Sunday. I lived in Dunson Buildings, Cable Street.
London Boy I belonged to an organisation known as the Jewish Lads Brigade – it was like the Church Army. I was at a dance one evening when all of a sudden one of the lads came in with the news of Cable Street, that Mosley had been prevented from marching. There was terrific cheers and everybody was thrilled.
The story of Cable Street is a story that has been mis-written, mis-recorded and historically fucked about
Ex-Secretary, Stepney Branch Communist Party The story of Cable Street is a story that has been mis-written, mis-recorded and historically fucked about. The real reason Mosley was unable to march through the East End of London – the real opposition wasn’t so much from the Jewish population as from the indigenous Catholic population of Cable Street.
Stepney Docker’s Son It was alleged at the time that the fascists didn’t do any damage in Cable Street, that it was in fact the Jews paid dockers to tear up Cable Street. It was discussed in our family. My father denied it.
Ex-Secretary, Stepney Branch Communist Party Up till Wednesday, prior to the Sunday, October 4, the Communist Party was opposed to the policy of stopping the march. This history hasn’t been recorded anywhere. (8) They used to say to me, what will defeat Mosley is reasoned argument – they had leaflets saying this! And I used to argue back I’ve got the finest reasoned argument, but the minute I go into a meeting to put it, I’m bashed over the head. So I raised the question of self-defence. I was immediately classified in the Party as a Blanquist, an Anarchist, a Putschist. The way to fight Mosley was not on the streets, we were only playing into his hands by opposing his meetings and marches, and this was the line of a lot of the official Jewish organisations, incidentally.
The way to oppose him, they said, was to get into the unions and win the unions over, and then the Labour Party. They said to me – I can show you this in actual words – that opposing the march was a pipe dream. It would take half a million people to do that. In the event, that’s what happened! There was half a million people there! (9) In fact, they had a demonstration arranged for the very same day in support of the Spanish democracy organised by the District Committee of the YCL. (10) The leaflet, which I’ve still got, said “All to Trafalgar Square on October 4”. That leaflet had to be changed. There wasn’t time to write a new leaflet, so they stamped on top of it “All to Aldgate”.
The majority of the Stepney Branch Committee and the whole of the membership were behind me. But there had been a running battle with half of the members on other issues – trade union work versus street work. But since the branch members who opposed me lived in the same area they couldn’t opt out of the reality of their situation. For instance, a hundred fascists raided Stepney Green Dwellings one night and when it came to phoning for the police all the lines had been cut. By the time police arrived hundreds of people had been beaten up. It was no good telling these people “Get into your unions” – they had the physical problem of defending themselves. For this reason most of the branch member supported me on this issue and opposed the Party line, the District line.
After October 4 the Party put itself forward as the “Victors”, as having led the fight, whereas in practice they had opposed it all the way through. They’d done this many, many times before. They’d done the same thing with the Invergordon Mutiny. (11) At the Unity conferences that were being called afterwards, in pursuit of the United Front line – “Unity Against Fascism” – they said that this was too big an issue for the Stepney Branch to handle, and that the District Branch will have to take over. From then onwards they steadily undermined me. From October 1936 to December I had already been suspended from being the Branch secretary. I was barred from appearing on platforms – in fact a whole series of calumnies and downright character assassinations. When it came to the LCC elections, (12) March 1937, and the District Party Congress, my expulsion had been proposed and therefore I couldn’t participate in the election or the forthcoming conference.
Ex-Central Committee Member, British Communist Party The Central Committee, as it was known then, used to meet every three weeks in the Grosvenor Hotel, London. I always used to sit with Tom Mann, who was a mischievous old bugger. (13) At one particular meeting Pollitt was away. The story was that Pollitt had gone to the Canary Islands. (14) This was while Chamberlain was still Prime Minister.
Churchill had made an approach to Dutt that the Communist Party should join hands to fight fascism and a unity of anybody.
I says to Tom Mann “Look, we’re not in favour of this. We’re in favour of unity with the Labour Party, not with the Liberals or any other groupings.” So he says “Well get up and speak. Go on. Go on.” I got up and opposed Dutt. (15) When it came to the vote, my vote was the only one against the resolution. They asked me to withdraw and I refused. Dutt then says “You’ll have to stay behind and we’ll have a discussion with you.” And old Tom Mann says “Now you’re for it, you bugger. You know what they did to Arthur Horner!” – Arthur Horner got sent to Moscow for 18 months for opposing the Party line. (16) I’m about 28 years of age at the time. I’m not a polished politician. And who’ve I got to discuss it with? – Bill Rust, Palme Dutt, Jimmy Shields and Johnny Campbell. Four high-powered politicians. (17)
We went into a cafe. Dutt put it quite plainly: “You’re not going back to Leeds until we’ve either got unanimity or you withdraw.” I fought them, I must have fought them for about two hours. It finished up I withdrew my opposition and accepted. That was bad enough, me doing that, but the following EC, three weeks later, Pollitt had returned and as we assembled he said “Before we start this meeting I want to draw your attention to what I consider one of the worst examples of political opportunism that I’ve come across.” And he made a most vicious attack on me, for withdrawing my opposition when I knew I was right, and then he attacked everybody else for being so silly as to think they could have unity outside of the Labour movement. So he reversed the previous decision and I got a rollocking into the bargain!
Ex-Secretary, Stepney Branch Communist Party I fought my proposed expulsion for a year, until March ’38, when I was finally expelled. Immediately after my expulsion people I had gone to school with, when they saw me in the distance, they crossed the road. At the time of my expulsion a very good friend of mine was about to get married. He came to see me. “Joe, you’d better not come to the wedding because if you come the rest of the Party members can’t attend.” My wife was approached – (we weren’t married at the time) – and was told that if she wanted to remain a Party member she’d have to leave me. This was the pressure you were under when you were a dissident. It was a racket. It was a gang.
When the war came along everything was turned on its head. Papers like the Daily Mail and Express and some other leading papers which were all behind Mosley changed their tune. The Chamberlain era had gone. Churchill was on the way in, and attitudes to fascism changed. Anti-fascism was the thing. You were fighting a great big war against fascism.
1. 1926 Miners Strike against the lowering of their wages and working conditions. Their stance was supported by the TUC who called a General Strike, that lasted nine days. The miners remained on strike for up to four months. They returned to work, beaten by the employers.
2. The Vagrancy Act was passed in 1824, and the monarch was George IV.
3. The Social Credit movement aimed to reform finance.
4. Oswald Mosley, founder and leader of the British Union of Fascists.
5. British Union of Fascists.
6. Forty bob = forty shillings = £2.
7. The Economic League was set up to counter and black-list ‘subversives’ in the labour movement. It compiled lists of ‘agitators’ and employees which it distributed to employers, and it was involved in the opposition to the General Strike of 1926.
8. But see Out of the Ghetto by Joe Jacobs (J.Simon, London, 1978). This is the speaker’s own account of the period, published subsequent to his original interview.
9. Phil Piratin who became Communist M.P. for Stepney in the 1945 General Election, and who disagreed with Joe Jacobs over strategy, puts the figure at 50,000 (Our Flag Stays Red, Thames Publications, 1948). No estimated numbers were given by The Times, nor were contained in the official police report on the incident.
10. YCL: Young Communist League, the youth wing of the Communist Party.
11. In September 1931 sailors of the Royal Navy Atlantic fleet, berthed at Invergordon, Scotland, mutinied for two days, after hearing of Government proposals to cut their pay.
12. LCC: London County Council
13. Syndicalist. Active in the 1889 dock strike, and the industrial unrest of 1911. Jailed in 1912 for associating himself with a leaflet that the authorities considered seditious. He was later to join the Communist Party.
14. Harry Pollitt, General Secretary from 1929 – 1939 and 1941 – 56.
15. Palme Dutt, member of the Central Committee and Party specialist in international questions.
16. South Wales miners’ leader.
17. Bill Rust was editor of The Daily Worker, Campbell was industrial organiser and Jimmy Shields was a member of the party’s Control Commission.