Unite members, officials, dignitaries, politicians, family and friends today celebrated the re-dedication of the Unite building in Liverpool in honour of Jack Jones, a man who dedicated his life to improving ordinary working people’s lives.
The occasion was also marked by the unveiling of a plaque paying tribute to Merseyside seamen and trade unionists involved in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Meanwhile, Jack Jones House is now fully occupied after the TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady opened new TUC offices in the building.
Born 1913, Jones followed his father into Liverpool docks. He quickly became a Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) shop steward. Later, as an official in Coventry, Jones organised the motor industry workforce before becoming regional secretary and promoting the shop steward movement and industrial democracy.
Jones was elected TGWU general secretary in 1968. During his tenure the union became the largest and most important grouping of workers in the world with over two million members. Yet Jones sought power only so he could promote the interests of his class. He was a decent, generous individual who lived in a council flat.
Tony Woodley, former Unite general secretary, undertook the re-dedication by unveiling a plaque. “It’s a privilege to remember possibly the greatest trade union leader of our times. Jack never forgot his roots and practised what he preached – workers first.”
Twelve members of the great man’s family were in attendance. Granddaughter Jane Jones said “We are really proud of granddad and thrilled Unite continues to remember him.”
Whilst serving with the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, Jones was seriously injured at the 1938 Battle of Ebro. Other Merseyside men did not though survive Spain. Jack Jones House entrance bears witness to their sacrifices with a plaque honouring their names.
This will now be accompanied by a plaque dedicated to Merseysiders whose spirit of international solidarity saw them risk their lives in the fight against racial segregation in South Africa. Internal resistance there in the form of demonstrations, strikes and acts of sabotage encouraged international solidarity.
Seafarers are uniquely placed to improve people’s lives. Gerry Wan, a Liverpool-born black seaman sailed regularly to Durban and secretly left documents and large sums of money for the African National Congress (ANC). George Cartwright, Eric Caddick, Pat Newman and Billy McCaig, who was present today, assisted 20 young freedom fighters to join the ANC armed wing.
All five men are named on the Liverpool City Council plaque unveiled by Unite general secretary Len McCluskey who said, “I was an anti-apartheid movement member. All praise for the comrades who risked their lives supporting our ANC comrades.”
Obed Mlaba, the South African High Commissioner and ANC member, also praised the men. “We will never forget the overseas friends of our struggle. We thank them for the wonderful, vital job they did during the hard times we experienced. We look forward to continuing to work with British trade unionists.”
To round off events, the TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady officially opened the TUC’s North West (NW) offices on the entire fourth floor of Jack Jones House. The building is now full, attractively decorated and completely accessible.
Mick Whitley, Unite NW regional secretary, was highly delighted. “This has been a momentous day.”