Wednesday, 22 April 2009

JACK JONES - A GREAT SOCIALIST RIP

How many great people do you meet in your life? One of my heroes died yesterday. Jack Jones packed so much into his 96 years. A Labour councillor in his native Liverpool, veteran of the Spanish Civil War and probably the greatest ever trade union leader in British history. Then in retirement, he organised the pensioners movement in a national way that had not been done before.

A man not moved by material things who lived in a Council flat and refused honours, knighthoods and peerages. I was fortunate to get to know Jack in his later years through his work for pensioners, and his efforts to commemorate the veterans of the Spanish Civil War. A friend of Jack's told me a story about how when a memorial was unveiled to Spanish Civil War veterans in South Wales there was a poignant moment. The speaker was saying how sad it was that it had taken so long to erect a memorial and sadly many of those from the local area honoured on the monument were no longer alive. As the names of the people on the plaque were read out, those alive were introduced, there was a pause for the deceased which was borken when one deceased name was announced. Up piped a voice, "here!"

Out of the crowd stepped a man who had lived quietly for decades and whose heroism in figthting fascism was unknown to everybody in his community.

I was fortunate that as a Councillor in Lewisham I could suggest that we should honour our local heroes and recognise their achievements whilst they were still alive. As I read more about the history of Lewisham's Spanish Civil War volunteers, it became clear that it was not just those who volunteered to go to Spain who should be remembered. There were weekly collections from workers in factories. Women provided clothes and parcels as well. Many across the community had showed their support to the International Brigade in Spain in 1936 and 1937.

We were able to find out about the history because of the knowledge of Communist Party veteran Bill Alexander. Bill was a historian of the International Brigades and campaigned for memorials. One of the easiest to find is near the London Eye outside the old Greater London Council County Hall building by the River Thames. With Bill and Jack's assistance I was able to ensure Lewisham had its own memorial. We placed it by the entrance to the main library in Catford so that all users, and particularly future students would see it as they passed by.

Jack had that star quality. Although I only knew him a little, whenever I saw him at Labour Party Conferences he always remembered who I was. Usually surrounded by many people he found time to talk and reflect on politics. He was disappointed at the decline of the Transport and General Workers Union he had lead, but this was a private opinion. Pleased that Labour was back in government he wished there was more redistribution.

Looking back people talk about too much union power in the past. Yet that power redistributed money towards the workers. Now widely condemned (Jack privately roundly condemned extremists who took strike action for political rather than practical reasons) as being too powerful, I think trade unionists of his generation are over critcised. Compare them to the bankers of the last two decades and the City of London. Maybe we are too close to events, but have we truly recognised the way the bankers of the world have shafted economies across the globe?

Jack was active until only a few weeks ago. He remained campaigning and trying to help others into his 90s. When we honoured the veterans of the Spanish Civil war in Lewisham and unveiled the memorail we sang this song. I am sure there will be a commemorative service for Jack, and I hope the hymn of the International Brigade Jarama Valley will be sung:

There's a valley in Spain called Jarama
Its a place that we all know so well
It was there that we fought against the fascists
We saw a peacful valley turn to hell

From this valley they say we are going
But don't hasten to bid us adieu
Even though we lost the battle at Jarama
We'll set this valley free before we're through

We were men of a laken battelion
We're proud of the fight that we made
We know that you people love the valley
We're remember a laken Brigade

From this valley they say we are going
But don't hasten to bid us adieu
Even though we lost the battle at Jarama
We'll set this valley free before we're through

You will never find peace with these fascists
You'll never find friends such as we
So remember that valley of Jarama
And the people that'll set that valley free

From this valley they say we are going
But don't hasten to bid us adieu
Even though we lost the battle at Jarama
We'll set this valley free before we're through

All this world is like this valley called Jarama
So green and so bright and so fair
No fascists can dwell in our valley
Nor breathe in our new freedom's air

From this valley they say we are going
But don't hasten to bid us adieu
Even though we lost the battle at Jarama
We'll set this valley free before we're through

Rest in Peace, Jack Jones, Great Socialist

1 comment:

  1. Mark, A very interesting article and a fitting tribute.

    On another point, a few weeks back I was asked by someone to look at some Spanish banknotes. The banknotes were all early 1930's Spainish and were part of a large amount found in an old 1930's suitcase. The owner is a bit vague to the origins, I am begining to suspect there is a Spainish civil war connection.

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