Harry Pollitt

Tom Mann

A Tribute

Source: Tom Mann: A Tribute
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Printer: Marston Printing Co., London.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THE death of Tom Mann is the passing of one of the greatest men the international Labour movement has ever produced—a giant towering incomparably over all his contemporaries in the many years in which he played a dominant role in the working class movement.

Grandson of a Warwickshire craftsman, a shoemaker who lived and died in the village of Woolston, Tom Mann was the first British. working-class leader to be known and trusted by workers throughout the world; the first to fight from start to finish for international solidarity and for the freedom of the Colonial peoples. His memory lives in China as it lives in Scandinavia.

Summoned there by the workers themselves, and regarded with fear and hatred by their rulers, he agitated and organised, worked, fought, studied, and went through the school of revolutionary experience and sacrifice in every country in Western Europe, in Canada, the United States, South Africa, and New Zealand.

The Red Flag which was flown on Melbourne Trades Hall for his 80th birthday was in honour not only of the founder of the Socialist Party of Victoria but of the man who first planted the Red Flag in Australia. The portrait of their great strike leader hangs in the place of honour in the Miners Lodge at Broken Hill, New South Wales.

Delegate at the International Trade Union Conference in London in 1888 before the Socialist International was founded, he was delegate to the third Congress of the Communist international in 1921.

FROM his earliest years two things were outstanding in his life. His contempt and scorn for the inefficiency and chaos of capitalism, and his selfless devotion to the cause of Socialism.

The life of Tom Mann is the history of the British working class at its best. From the 1880’s to 1939, be has never rested from campaigning on their behalf.

Wherever there has been a fight, Tom was in it. From the great Dockers’ Strike in 1889, to the last Hunger March on London, always Tom was in the forefront of the workers’ struggle.

And at the very centre of his thoughts were always those workers who were the worst paid, and suffered from unemployment most.

It was this that made him at the very outset of his long career of service, rebel against the craft prejudices and sectionalism that characterised the trade union movement of the ’80’s. Although no worker was prouder of his craft than Tom, or of his membership of the A.E.U., unbroken since he joined the A.S.E. in 1881.

But be knew the limited outlook was wrong; he knew the unskilled labourer had to be organised. This he set about doing along with his associates of that time, Will Thorne, John Burns and Ben Tillett.

THE New Unionism that Tom Mann championed, and those identified with it, were fiercely attacked by the T.U.C. in the eighties as Communism is today. But what these pioneers set out to achieve was achieved.

There is not an industry in Britain that is not better organised today as a result of the work of Tom Mann. Miners, seamen, dockers, engineers and unskilled workers of all kinds owe a debt of gratitude to Tom Mann that is little appreciated by the present generation. But into their organisation he has put something of his genius that will not be destroyed despite the policy of their present leaders.

The importance he attached to trade union organisation inevitably developed in Tom Mann a contempt for “politics” in the reformist sense, and this never left him, even in the period when he was General Secretary of the I.L.P.

For from the very first of his campaigns, the agitation he began in 1886 for the eight hour day, his aim was always not only to break down the barriers between skilled and unskilled workers but to make trade unionism a revolutionary weapon by the inspiration of Socialism. And one of the reasons why he fought for the shorter working day all through his life was because he believed in education for revolution.

NEVER satisfied with half measures, always seeing ahead, Tom Mann is the only leader of his generation who never stayed satisfied with things as they were or went after positions of security, wealth and power. He refused all those opportunities of moving “up in the world” which have seduced so many and lived more simply than many who owe their advance to him.

It was “direct action” all the time that Tom wanted and it was this that he expressed also in the way he worked and went about his own affairs.

Between 1896, when, with Ben Tillett, he founded the International Federation of Transport Workers, and 1934, when he was tried along with me for sedition, he served two prison sentences in Britain and was deported from or imprisoned in France, Germany, Victoria, New South Wales, Canada, and Northern Ireland.

But it was just because he would never “settle down” into respectability and safety, that he lived and died a pioneer. When he became a Socialist in 1885 there were not 500 organised Socialists in Great Britain; when he became a Syndicalist in 1910 he initiated the effort for industrial trade unionism as a more revolutionary form of trade unionism.

By his imprisonment, two years before the first World War, for his “Don’t Shoot” appeal to soldiers called out in strikes, he opened a new chapter in anti-militarist struggle. By becoming a foundation member of the Communist Party in 1920, he carried on the habit of his life, always to march with the vanguard.

HE welcomed the Russian Revolution because “it was the direct action of the sort he wanted to see everywhere,” He not only, acclaimed it, but was one of the first to be identified with the movement seeking to form a Communist Party in Britain. We are proud that this great leader of working men and women, this great international figure, this man loved by millions and hated by “The Boss Class” (as Tom always called them) was a foundation member of the Communist Party.

It was the logical end of decades of previous revolutionary effort on the behalf of the “bottom dog.”

Now Tom Mann has gone. But not from the memories of the millions who knew and loved him, who quickened with life as he briskly strode on the platform and to whom lie explained things in such simple Socialist language; those millions whom he aroused to wrath and indignation as he exposed the evils of capitalism, whom he inflamed with the determination to get together for Unity and Militancy, for Solidarity and Direct Action, and who waited for that moment at the end of a demonstration, when Tom would command them to stand and to put up their hands if they agreed with what he had said; then, swiftly taking out his handkerchief, he would call for “Three Cheers for Unity.”

THIS was no ritual on Tom Mann’s part—it was a serious thing. A pledge taken. A decision made. An audience won for action. To send workers home feeling warm with comradeship and revolutionary fire. To have robbed life of a little of its greyness and to have given a glimpse of what life under Socialism could be like.

This was always Tom Mann’s aim. I am glad that in his last months of life he did not know all the filth, misery and death that war has brought. I am glad he never saw Coventry, which he loved so well, as it is now; it is close to his birthplace of Foleshill. His greatest distress would have been that there was not snore united action to make the continuance of such things impossible.

We salute the passing of a great man. One who really loved the workers. Who could not bear to see them suffer, and who shared all their trials and problems.

Age was never allowed to dim his passionate burning faith. Always the light of Socialism and, Internationalism shone bright for Tom Mann. A born optimist, a friend and comrade to all he could help, he stood alone.

In those last 20 years, he gave of his best to Communism. No journey was too tiresome to make, if it was “for the good of the cause.” His wise counsel, his urge for forms of direct action against capitalism, his example of devotion and painstaking energy, made him a tower of strength to the Communist Party of Great Britain.

TOM MANN was proud that he was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. He felt that this crowned his life’s work and brought him into close contact with the revolutionary workers of the whole world.

We extend to Mrs. Mann and her family our deepest sympathy and here place on record the appreciation that those who have been closest to Tom Mann feel for all that Mrs. Mann has done. No man ever had as his wife a more devoted comrade, and few know what she has gone through in these last months.

We mourn the passing of a workers’ leader, one who made history. It is for us to prove by the way we now carry on, that we really understand how to value and profit by the example of the life and work of one of Labour’s greatest leaders—Tom Mann.

On the foundations he so well and truly laid we shall yet build the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain, and working people shall work and live, utilising the resources of modern civilisation in a way that allows human dignity and personality to flower in all their splendour for the benefit of all the common people.

That is our pledge in memory of Tom Mann for all he did to make it possible.

BIRTH and childhood, Foleshill, Warwickshire. Left school at nine. Worked in fields. From ten to 14 years in coalmine.

Apprenticeship as engineer in Birmingham. Hours reduced from 12 to nine daily after great engineering strike of 1871. Attends evening classes, temperance society, churches, chapels and secular society meetings, hears old John Bright and young Joseph Chamberlain, Holyoake, Bradlaugh, etc.

London in great economic crisis. No job except as porter, warehouse clerk, etc.

Employed as highly skilled engineer in big London shops, mainly war industry. Three years at Thorneycrofts, Chiswick, working on torpedoes. Joins A.S.E. (now A.E:U.) and becomes Co-operator 1881. Is now “aristocrat of labour.” Life-long interest in astronomy develops after cutting up a meteorite in British Museum.

Studies Henry George, Ruskin, Carlyle. Visits America, working three months in New York.

May 1885
Becomes a Socialist. Joins Social-Democratic Federation; Battersea Branch newly formed by John Burns.

Socialist propagandist, agitator among unemployed. First great speech in Trafalgar Square at meeting broken up by troops. First experiences of internationalism. 1886—First pamphlet: “What A Compulsory Eight Hours Day Means to the Workers.” Forms Eight Hours’ League which leads London agitation for an eight-hour day. Objects at this time: unity between skilled and unskilled, linking of Socialism to trade unionism. Pioneer in both fields. Insistence on work in trade anions alieniates him from Hyndman. 1887—Finally victimised as Socialist and barred from London shops. Ditto in Newcastle. Works for S.D.F. Newcastle and Bolton. 1888—Helps Kier Hardie’s first election campaign (Mid-Lanark). Works for Labour Elector in London. Exposes conditions in Brunner Mond’s Northwich (now I.C.I.) by taking job as labourer under name of Joe Millet. 1888-With John Burns assists Will Thorne in formation of Gasworkers and General Labourers Union.

With Burns and Tillet leads dock strike. With Tillett organises Dockers’ Union and works with it as President. 1890—Agitation on London Trades Council. Moves and carries resolution for participation of L.T.C. in first London May-Day. Delegate to T.U.G. Resolution for 8 hour day at last won. 1892—At Co-operative Congress urges unity between trade unionists and cooperators and participation of Co-ops in May-Day celebrations.1891-1893—Member of Fabian Society and of Royal Commission on Labour. Refuses Government post. Agitation for great miners’ strike. Considers possibility of becoming a clergyman.

General Secretary and organiser of the I.L.P. (founded 1893).

With Ben Tillett founds International Federation of Transport Workers. Travels in all Western European countries organising unions, arrested, deported, banned, etc. 1898—Chief founder of Workers’ Union. Keeps pub. “Enterprise”; resort for political refugees and anarchists. Socialist propagandist throughout the country.

In New Zealand and Australia. Founds and leads Socialist Party of Victoria. Imprisoned at Melbourne for rights of free speech. Leads great strike at Broken Hill. Banned from speaking in New South Wales. Workers organise “Tom Mann Train” across border into South Australia for him to speak to them.

Drives for revolutionary trade unionism in Britain. Leads syndicalist agitation for organsiation by industry and “direct action.” Edits Industrial Syndicalist. With Tillett forms National Federation of Transport Workers Unions. 1911—Leads great Liverpool transport strike. Gunboats sent to Mersey. Tom Mann “dictator of Liverpool” commands all transport, including mails and departure of ships.

Imprisonment for “Don’t Shoot” appeal to soldiers not to take part in strikes.

Visits U.S.A. as guest of Pennsylvania millers. Debates on nature of State. Called to South Africa after deportation of trade union leaders. Returns on outbreak of world war.

Works with Havelock Wilson in organising seamen, but breaks with him finally 1917.

Joins British Socialist Party in Manchester after its split with war patriotism and Hyndman. Attends Leeds Conference welcoming Russian revolution.

Foundation member of Communist Party, in which B.S.P. becomes merged.

Delegate to first conference of revolutionary trade unions (Red International of Labour Unions) and to Congress of Communist International, Moscow. Meets Lenin.

As General Secretary of the union he joined in 1881, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, he carries through amalgamation to present A.E.U.

Chairman of National Minority Movement—active work for militant trade unionism and organisation of unemployed.

In China with revolutionary workers.

Sentenced to three months’ imprisonment in order to prevent him from leading unemployed agitation with Hannington and other Communists.

Trial for sedition with Harry Pollitt in Swansea. 1932-34—Deported from Canada and Northern Ireland.

April 15 his 80th birthday celebrated by dinner of 700 people. Greetings from all over the world. Delegate to Canada for May Day.

With Ben Tillett pays 4th visit to U.S.S.R.

Active as propagandist and agitator. 1938—Assists municipal election campaign of Swedish Communist Party.