Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/577/7219

From The Socialist newspaper, 29 April 2009

Jack Jones

Former TGWU general secretary

Many of the obituaries of Jack Jones in the capitalist press comment on his early life when he was fighting with the international brigade in the Spanish civil war against the fascists of Franco.

Bill Mullins

There is no doubt that Jones, who was injured in the battle of Ebro (south of Madrid) in 1938, represented a generation of youth who were outraged at the rise of fascism across Europe and wanted to do something about it. His experiences in Spain left an indelible mark that would put him firmly on the left in the trade union movement.

In 1969 his election as general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU) was representative of the shift to the left in the unions, and the Labour Party. The context for this was the changing situation in the British economy, which was suffering as it increasingly lost out to overseas rivals in world markets.

Jones had allied himself to the developing shop stewards' movement (in reality the activists of the TGWU), which played a big part in his election campaign. At the time the Labour government was preparing, on behalf of big business, to 'curb' the power of the unions, particularly the shop stewards' movement.

The government of Harold Wilson tried to introduce new anti-union laws, which at their heart were against the shop stewards. They included overt legislation which would have seen shop stewards imprisoned for lengthy periods of time for representing their members.

The uproar this caused forced the union leaders, particularly Jack Jones, to openly lead opposition to the measures. As a result the legislation was withdrawn. It was from this period that the capitalist press started to refer to Jones and Hugh Scanlon, who had been elected as president of the engineering union (AEU), as the 'terrible twins' of the labour movement.

The Telegraph obituary tries to paint Jones as fundamentally different to previous TGWU leaders like Ernest Bevin, Arthur Deakin and Frank Cousins (Jones' immediate predecessor). "They", according to the Telegraph, "represented the general good" of society whereas Jones "saw himself as the workers' tribune".

But in reality, despite Jones being different to his predecessors, when the chips were down, like Scanlon, he could not see how to take the movement forward other than to ensure that a Labour government stayed in power.

The Telegraph, quite correctly, says that Jones was "incorruptible" and that he "lived in a council house his whole life". Compare this to the gravy train now being ridden by the Labour leadership with their second homes and abuse of expenses.

It was in the Spanish civil war that Jones first met Ted Heath, who was later to become a Tory prime minister. Heath was part of a delegation from the British universities to Spain. Jones described him as reflecting "a strand of Conservative thinking which had some sympathy with the Republic".

As prime minister, Heath's attempts to curb the unions were met with opposition. But when some of the unions said they would not comply with Heath's anti-union laws, Jones opposed this, saying the TGWU would not do anything "illegal".

Under his pressure and on the casting vote of the chair of the union's GEC the union paid a 50,000 fine imposed on it by Donaldson's industrial relations court. This was for the union backing the fight against the containerisation of the British ports.

Ironically this in turn was to lead to the jailing of the Pentonville Five (all TGWU members) for refusing to lift pickets against the containerisation process in east London. But the imprisoning of the Five was met by a strike wave, which grew from below. As a result the Heath government and the courts were forced to retreat.

Trade union power

The Telegraph comments that in 1974 Harold Wilson was returned to Number 10 but it was "Jones who was running the country". Despite this focus on Jones as an individual, this is a reference to the enormous power the organised trade union movement had at the time. In reality, Jack Jones, like the other trade union leaders on the left, and on the right, increasingly feared they were losing control of their rank and file.

Jones, in fact, drafted the 'social contract' with the Wilson government that saw the introduction of wage controls in 1975. But in 1977 Jones was forced to witness his own union conference reject further wage restraint.

The election of Jones and other left leaders was representative of a shift to the left in the consciousness of the mass of workers in the late 1960s and 1970s. They were pushed further to the left by pressure from ordinary trade union members and activists. In this situation, with a strong trade union movement, the working class had the opportunity to push forward its interests on the political arena.

But without the building of a mass revolutionary party, the only alternative promoted by Jones was the Labour government. It was this that dictated his policies, even if the price of a Labour government was attacks on the conditions of his members. When Labour's attacks met with opposition from the organised working class, Jack Jones' reformist outlook meant that he could not give a lead to fight for a real alternative to the crisis of capitalism.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 29 April 2009:

Fight for jobs!

Youth Fight for Jobs launch conference

Olympics: Defend jobs, pay and conditions


Socialist Party election campaign

European elections: Build support for a workers' alternative to Labour


Stop Press

STOP PRESS: Key union activist sacked


Socialist Party workplace news

Sacked workers protest in Newcastle


Socialist Party news and analysis

Budget 2009 - debts passed to all of us

Does the 'botch it' budget benefit young people?

It's tough at the top!

Jack Jones obituary


International socialist news and analysis

Workers' internationalism: A history of the first four socialist international organisations

Sri Lanka war: Rajapakse regime ignores Tamils' plight in renewed army offensive


NUT feature

National Union of Teachers conference: Fighting "teaching-on-the-cheap"

Hands off Lewisham Bridge school!

Being a new teacher - a shock to the system


 

Home   |   The Socialist 29 April 2009   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  




Related links:

Labour:

triangleCorbyn's Labour needs 100% anti-cuts strategy and fight for democracy

triangleWe must fight all council cuts!

trianglePacked Newham meeting against academies

triangleNo to the Woolwich monster block

triangleCardiff Socialist Party: Why Labour and Plaid councils must set no-cuts budgets

TGWU:

trianglePoverty, repression and fightback on the docks

triangleReview: 'On the Track' by Bill Mullins

Shop Stewards:

triangleUnite day of action against blacklisting

triangleObituary: Derek Robinson, car workers' leader, 1927-2017

Unions:

triangleAppeal from Iranian independent unions

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns

17/1/18

Socialist Party

Southern Socialist Party conference: discussing the way forward in 2018

17/1/18

Women

Socialist Party women's meeting brings together members to share experiences

17/1/18

Newham

Packed Newham meeting against academies

17/1/18

Liverpool

Lobby pushes Liverpool council to oppose privatisation

17/1/18

Barking

Heating scandal on east London estate

17/1/18

Policing

Undercover policing legal challenge

17/1/18

Woolwich

No to the Woolwich monster block

17/1/18

Cuts

We must fight all council cuts!

17/1/18

Union

Workplace news in brief

17/1/18

Union

PCS union 2018 elections - nominate the left slate for a continued fighting leadership

17/1/18

Hackney

Hackney school cleaners strike

17/1/18

RMT

RMT strikes against driver-only operation continue

17/1/18

Yorkshire

Ferrybridge: Workers down tools over unpaid wages

16/1/18

Birmingham

Home care workers to strike

12/1/18

Waltham Forest

Outrage against 'monster block' plan

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle16 Jan Home care workers to strike

triangle15 Jan Carillion crisis: Demand action to save jobs and services

triangle12 Jan Outrage against 'monster block' plan

triangle12 Jan Mini-strike wave continues and intensifies

triangle10 Jan Strike wins biggest pay rise in ten years

triangle10 Jan Movement of workers and youth challenges Iranian regime

triangle10 Jan Cabinet chaos as shambolic reshuffle underlines Theresa May's...

More ...

triangle18 Jan Waltham Forest Socialist Party: How do we get Corbyn's policies into Waltham Forest council?

triangle18 Jan Southampton Socialist Party: Is there a global nuclear threat?

triangle18 Jan Swansea Socialist Party: Is there a threat of nuclear war?

triangle18 Jan Cardiff East Socialist Party: Building Socialism in Cardiff East

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Archive

Archives:

January 2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999

Legal

SP RSS feed RSS

Platform setting: = No platform choice

V2