Thursday, June 24, 2010

Johnny Ralph - Socialist & Champion Cyclist

Johnny Ralph

John "Johnny" Ralph was a champion cyclist and a committed Communist Party member.

He was born on 6th October 1931 at Hammersmith hospital and his family lived locally in the Acton and Hammersmith area. His father was Fredrick Ralph, a motor fitter for Wimpey, and his mother Bessie originated from near Poole, Dorset.

At the start of World War Two, he and his sister were evacuated to Dorset. After a period of time, his mother sent him and his sister to live at Johnny’s grandparents. They also lived in Dorset– Johnnie’s grandfather was a fishermen by trade. While in Dorset, he attended school at Shipstall, Wareham, Dorset, which he later recalled was a long walk from his grandparents’ house

When Wimpey’s, the construction company that Ralph’s father worked for, relocated to Denham, Buckinghamshire, Frederick was able to move there. Wimpey had built huts for staff near to the aerodrome. Johnny and his sister joined their father and the boy joined the Uxbridge Wheelers Cycling Club, which had been established in 1936.

It was at this that Johnny met his future wife, Jean Hunter, in around 1948. Jean came from Uxbridge and was a local nurse; she later worked as a manager in Hillingdon Social Services.

Later Johnny undertook his National Service; during this period, he was based at Hendon and spent the majority of his time racing and training for RAF cycling team. He described his national service, unlike many others, as a “cushy number” – although this was not a general experience!

After National Service Johnny undertook a motor fitting apprentice but later secured a job as a laboratory technician and instrument maker at Taylor Woodrow at Ruislip Lane, Uxbridge, Middlesex joining the ASTMS trade union.

His cycling was going from strength to strength but he needed more track racing experience and subsequently joined the highly prestigious, Regent Street-based cycling club, Polytechnic “Poly” around 1949. This was a large club, with over two hundred members of which half were racing cyclists, knows as “Poly-boys”. The team-kit colours of were a blue based jersey with a red band in the middle and they raced at Herne Hill and Paddington track.

By the mid 1950s, Johnny was working his way up to the very elite of his sport, excelling in sprint and five and ten mile races. He participated in national championships and was a team pursuit champion, while regularly cycling for England.

Dennis Seacombe described Johnny as “very good rider”. This may have been an under-estimation! However his misfortune was to be cycling at a time when the great Reg Harris was at the very pinnacle of his success, for he often overshadowed Johnnie Ralph’s many achievements.

He also had the misfortune of being selected to race for England at the Empire games in Cardiff in1958, but a puncture robbed him of that opportunity for victory. Worse still, because of this injury, Johnny was not able to work for a living and Polytechnic agreed to make a relatively small donation to his wife to help them make ends meet.

He represented England at events in Germany, Denmark and France and he was a member of the "Poly" team pursuit team that won the national team pursuit in 1957

But this was to prove a bitter pill for Johnny. He had joined the Communist Party and now wished to ride for the famous socialist Clarion Cycling Club. But the Polytechnic Club demanded the repayment of the donation and, when Johnny understandably refused, the Poly Club went to the Cycling Unionto ban him from racing. They were able to pull this off, leading Johnny to feel that all the power in cycling was concentrated in the hands of those with “the right hand shake”, a reference to Masonic influences.

Despite the ban on him racing, Johnny continued training younger cyclists at his favorite track, Palmer Park, Reading, one of the oldest in the country.

In the 1950s, John secured a job at Fairey Aviation at Park Way Hanger Lane, later moving to Fairey, Hayes, West Middlesex. Whilst there, Johnny met a number of leading Communists who worked for Fairey, such as Frank Foster and John Mansfield. However, as Johnny was working on a guided missile system, the company was less than pleased when Johnny announced he was visiting the GDR (East Germany) to compete in a cycle race.

Totally out of the blue, Johnnie was offered a job at a small company on much better terms and conditions. So, he left Fairey but when he arrived at the new company the potential contract and job had mysteriously disappeared. Johnny then tried to secure his old job back at Fairey Aviation but soon realised he had been `blacklisted’. From then on, he recalled, he would often secure a new job, only to be told later that his references were not acceptable. In the end, despite being a skilled man, he was forced to undertake window cleaning to earn a living. Later, he secured a job with the LondonCo-operative transport maintenance department based at Yiewsley and then a post back at Taylor Woodrow.

Johnny Ralph had been greatly influenced by a fellow Uxbridge cyclist and West Drayton trade unionist, a veteran committed socialist, Bob “Digger” Downs. There were many others, such as Communist cyclists like Fred Riley of Slough, a Communist Party full-timer; Harold Goodwin, a former merchant seaman and Party member; Bob Bragan, a Geordie and Communist teacher at Harlington Primary School, and his wife, Edith, who hailed from Birmingham. There was Stan & Nora Emeversley of Ivor; Stan being a former South Walesminer who was suffering from pneumoconiosis. Harold Thomas was another, and there was Dickie Bond, who had cycled in the Workers’ Olympics in the 1930s. (See separate entries for many of these personalities.)

Johnny sold the Daily Worker and later Morning Star on a regular basis on Saturdays outside the Uxbridge tube station, as well as standing as a Communist Party candidate for Hillingdon East. Along with many progressives in Hillingdon in his later years, he worked for John McDonnell, MP, from when he was first a GLC councillor for Hayes.

On 8th July 1984, Johnny and his eldest son Stephen went for an early morning ride while on holiday in Dorset. When descending Corfe Castle, he was involved in an accident with a car and caravan which had failed to see either him or his son. As a result, Johnny Ralph was severely injured, tragically dying in hospital on the 11th July 1984.

He was cremated at Uxbridge and his funeral was very well attended by local dignitaries, including leading trade unionists and Communists such as Mike Hicks (Print Union - living in Hayes), Fred Riley, and Harold Goodwin.

Later an Uxbridge pedestrian and cycle crossing – possibly in Cowley Road– was named after Johnnie. Surprisingly, but much to his credit, local Tory leader of the council, Andrew Boff (now a GLA member), who had known John and his son, was associated with this.

Tragically, one daughter (Lisa) was killed as a pillion rider on a motorcycle. Johnnie’s oldest son, Stephen, has gone on to a successful career in computers and another son is a director of youth and community services.

His wife, Jean, who went through all the tribulations of Johnny’s many victimisation's as well as his triumphs, continued to be an ardent defender of her husband’s memory.

Photo- Johnny Ralph winning the Cooper Cup at Herne Hill 1957

Many thanks and apologies to Jean Ralph for corrections

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Palme Dutt - What is Fascism

What wrote R Palme Dutt in his book
"Fascism and social revolution"
are the general conditions for the growth of Fascism ?

He listed them as follows
1) Intensification of the Economic crisis and of the class struggle
2) Widespread disillusionment with parliamentarianism
3) The existence of a wide petty bourgeois inter mediate strata, slum proletariat, and sections of the workers under capitalist influence
4) The absence of independent class conscious leadership of the main body of the working class

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sunday Worker - 1925-1929

* click to enlarge

In March 1925 the Sunday Worker was launched at the initiative of the Communist Part of Great Britain

The Sunday Worker was the first Labour Sunday newspaper published in Great Britain.

It was based at 74 Swinton Street, Grays Inn Road, London.

The objective of the paper was spelt out in the editorial in the first edition of the Sunday worker 15th march 1925.

"Our policy will be to fight the battle of the working class, and of the working class alone".

"The Sunday Worker will be (if it realises its ambition) an organ of the Left Wing of the Labour Movement".

"The Sunday Worker aims at presenting the varied data of the the workers' struggle so fully and clearly (circumstances considered) that we not only express the Left Wing, but aid it to consolidate itself - and in so doing the workers struggle as a whole".

Glasgow born Communist William "Bill" Paul (1884-1958) beacame editor of the Sunday Worker and was credited with securing a circulation of 100,000 and was unarguably a great success for the Party, so much so that it encouraged the drive to achieve a daily paper, the Daily Worker in 1930.

Sunday Worker closed November 1929 and the Daily Worker began on 1st January 1930.

William Paul died in Derby in 1958

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fulwell Tram Strike 1909

The 1909 London United Tramways strike

At the turn of the century the public transport system on the roads of West London was that of the London United Tramways Company. Their trams clattered from Hammersmith to Hounslow and Uxbridge, from Hanwell to Brentford and down to Hampton. The service was good and cheap and the Company employed 1,200 drivers and conductors who worked a 63-hour week for six shillings a day.

Sometimes men were on duty for 10 hours without a meal break and continuous duties of 20 hours were not unknown. The Company employed "spots" whose job was to spy on employees and report breaches of regulations - like eating in the cab - and many suspensions and dismissals resulted from this system.

The Amalgamated Union of Tram and Vehicle Workers was not recognised by the Company and agitators for recognition were discouraged or dismissed. There were plenty of jobless men waiting to take up any vacancy.

Despite the difficulties the union began recruiting and on Saturday, 3 April 1909 Jack Burns, full-time secretary of the West London branch, wrote to the Company chairman, Sir Clifton Robinson, asking for an interview to discuss the growing discontent amongst the employees. Sir Clifton refused to meet Mr. Burns, saying that he would only meet employees of the Company. Jack Burns wanted to discuss the men's demands which included union recognition, a six-day week, time and a quarter for rest day working, improvement in wages, re-instatement of men discharged because of their connection with the union and the putting of the tramcars into proper working order.

At the Fulwell Depot talk of an immediate strike began but the men approached Sir Clifton again, this time asking him to receive a deputation of twenty employees headed by Jack Burns and a Mr Watson, another union official. This was also refused; Sir Clifton was only willing to see the twenty employees. The drivers and conductors knew about the fate which had befallen previous employees who had led deputations.

After an angry meeting on Easter Saturday at the Fulwell Depot, which went on until 3 am, the men decided to strike immediately. Jack Burns believed the other depots at Hanwell and Chiswick would support the action and pickets were dispatched to those depots. It is not clear why Fulwell was the centre of the agitation but it could be because a former employee at Fulwell, who also lived nearby, had been sacked for his union activities. He may also have been the local union secretary.

The strike might have been successful if Jack Burns had addressed similar meetings at the Hanwell and Chiswick depots. The Company, however, had acted quickly to stop the strike spreading. The handfuls of pickets sent to Hanwell and Chiswick were not effective and as men reported for work they were required to sign a petition of loyalty to the Company. Two men at Chiswick who refused to sign were dismissed. At Hanwell the men were offered an extra day's pay to take over trams normally run by the Fulwell men. The Company took on extra workers and immediately dismissed all men who were taking part in the strike. Jack Burns went to Hanwell and Chiswick and persuaded a few men to join the strike but it was too late.

Nevertheless, on Sunday morning a large crowd of strikers and their wives and children gathered outside the Fulwell depot. Several local strike-breakers were booed but when three tramcars full of strike-breakers from Hanwell arrived the crowd became angry. As the vehicles began to be brought out of the depot some of the women broke through the police lines and ran at the trams, screaming threats at the drivers. It slowly dawned on the strikers that they were not going to win. In the evening trouble began as returning trams had their windows smashed by stones from catapults, and orange peel was hurled at the men from Hanwell who had taken the Company's bribe. The women supported the men throughout the struggle and joined in a march to Chiswick, taking their children with them.

On Easter Monday 2,000 people stood outside the depot jeering and hooting but eventually just standing in disgust as their colleagues ran the service for the Company. Sir Clifton Robinson gave triumphant interviews to the local press and blamed the union for misleading the men into a strike which resulted in their dismissal. There were, he pointed out, two men waiting for every job that became vacant. Worse was to come because the strike had not been considered by the union’s executive council; it was therefore unofficial and strike pay was not available. Some dismissed employees tried to sue the union.

But that was not the end of the affair. For the next three weeks mass meetings were held, mainly in Hounslow, where the employees' grievances were aired. A march of dismissed Fulwell strikers to hand back their uniforms went through Hounslow and Brentford to Chiswick and brought much publicity. The union continued to recruit.

In May questions were asked in Parliament as a result of the strike and Winston Churchill, President of the Board of Trade, answered that there were no regulations concerning the number of hours that tram-drivers might work at a stretch. Nothing was done about the hours but further questioning resulted in a new regulation which obliged the police to be satisfied of a man's driving ability before he could drive a tram. Before that the Company could put anyone from the street into the driver's seat. Nothing was done, however, to help those men who were sacked - apart from meagre collections amongst the public and those still employed by the Company.

The strike failed partly because Jack Burns' oratory was only heard at Fulwell and the men would have been well advised to wait until the views of the other depots were known before they stopped work. The strike also foundered because the Company could take men straight from the unemployment lines and put them into the trams without any training. The courage and solidarity of Fulwell was in the end overwhelmed by the pressure of poverty and unemployment which forced men to come forward to take the strikers' jobs.

The local press, particularly the Chiswick Times, attacked the union for spoiling the pleasure of the public over the Bank Holiday. The press also set up Sir Clifton Robinson as a local hero who had triumphed against overwhelming odds. The Union was displayed as a demon which had misled innocents to their destruction. The Chiswick Times managed to find a well-known local trade unionist who was reported as saying, "Personally, I do not believe in strikes. They are a thing of the past. The fact that during the last eight years there has been a decrease in the wages of the workers in the country as a whole proved conclusively that strikes are absolutely hopeless. Trades Unionism has lost its grip and if the workers of the country want to bring about better conditions for themselves, they must do it through the ballot-box".

There was a depth of tragedy and despair in those remarks - some might call it realism - but it was the spirit of the Fulwell men rather than the practicality of the "well-known local trade unionist" that saw the Labour Movement through to its triumph in the end. The local events of 1909 might help to show us the right path to take at this end of the 20th century.

John Grig

Labour Heritage

Originally published in 1985

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hounslow 1945

"Were not coming back to the dole"

said Sargent Jim Allen of Heston as he embarked to take part in driving fascism from Europe, quoted in the introduction to the Hounslow Communist Party Plan 1945

This booklet has a contact address for the CP as 11a Devonshire House, School Road, Hounslow

Middlesex Chronicle, Saturday October 27 1945


In connection with the Heston Ward contest, a copy of correspondence between Heston & Isleworth Divisional Labour Party and Heston Communist Party has been sent to us by Mr E. Warmington, secretary of the latter body.

In a letter to the Communist Party on October 18th, Mr W Chamberlaine, Labour Party secretary and agent, stated :-

“Some time ago we received a communication from your organisation requesting that a joint discussion take place on the desirability of a united effort of the two parties in connection with the municipal elections. We replied to the effect that we wished to work to the wishes and constitution of the National Labour Party as laid down by its conference from time to time. We were of the opinion that this reply fully answered your request. It has, however, come to our notice that a statement has been made by members of your organisation to the effect that an arrangement has been arrived at between the Divisional Labour Party and the Communist Party to fight the election jointly within the Heston Ward. Your workers have suggested that it is the desire of this party that the electorate return one Communist and one Official Labour Party candidate. You are fully aware that this is not the case and we regret to have to point out this statement is a lie, and we request that this statement be rectified publicly immediately. We consider this matter a most serious breach of faith and should our request not be acceded to, we shall feel disposed to discuss the question with higher authority. We feel your statement will have anything but the effect apparently desired and, to quote your own well-worn phrase ‘in the interest of working class unity’ trust you will not delay in clarifying the matter and assuring those electors you have so basely misguided of the true state of affairs.”

Mr Warmington wrote to Mr Chamberlaine on October 23rd:-

“In reply to your communication of the 18th inst, I am only too glad to draw attention to the following points which have been strictly adhered to by our canvassers and at our public meetings at the Council House on October 4th and Berkeley School on October 17th:

We deploy the attitude of the Labour Party in refusing to meet the Communist Party with regard to an agreement during this election in order to avoid any splitting of the vote.

At the same time we decided to withdraw our candidates in the other wards to allow the Labour Party to attain their majority on the Council, which we know is absolutely essential.

We contest Heston because it is a ward less likely to damage the vote than any other, as no Labour Party councillors are retiring.

It is essential that the Communist Party have representation in local government owing to the growing section of the public which now support it, the vast number of problems, housing, etc, which must be attacked and for which we have a policy.

We ask the electorate to give one vote to the Communist Party, and the other to Labour, as we stand one candidate only and they have two votes. This has been our policy throughout the campaign and it will continue to be so. We are confident that no other statement of fact has been made by our representatives for which we have ample evidence.

The Election Result in Heston

John Patrick Blake.

“Willowcot” Avenue Gardens, Cranford .

Architect and surveyor. (Ratepayers Assn) 3,272 (ELECTED)

George William Morris.

28 Orchard Avenue, Heston.

Inspector. London Passenger Transport Board. (Labour) 3,260 (ELECTED)

Sidney Herbert Court.

28 Old Cote Drive, Heston.

Local Government Official (Ratepayers Assn) 3,175

Mrs Ada Isobel Fisher.

168 Ash Grove, Heston

Housewife (Labour) 3,135

Ernest Ezra Templar Warmington

94, Westbrook Road, Heston

Builder (Communist) 658

Blake and Morris elected

(Ward result Labour gain from Ratepayers Assn)

In Isleworth North a breakaway group from the Divisional Labour Party called the Isleworth Local Labour Party (ILLP) ran candidates against the official Labour Candidates and won.

In 1945 Labour won 10 of the 15 vacant seats in the 8 wards. The ILLP won 3.

The Conservatives 1 and the Ratepayers 1 and Labour gained control of the council.

Middlesex Chronicle - John Grigg - Labour Heritage