How I Joined The Communist Party
J. R. Gilmour
I was born in Cheapside, Birmingham, on March 16. 1914, of working class parents, my father being a wood-working machinist. I was the 6th child of nine, and went to an elementary school like the rest of my family. After about 1923 we had a very hard struggle in home life, owing to my father losing his disability pension and being unable to obtain work. My three elder brothers in turn joined the Army owing to unemployment; therefore when I was only 11 years I had to get a half-time job to make both ends meet.
When I was at school I was very fond of drawing and passed an examination for the school of arts, but was unable to go because of economic difficulties, so I remained at the same school, being in the top class for nearly three years. When I left school I got a job on a drilling machine, where I stayed for about three months. After that I got a job mating on a motor-van, which lasted about twelve months. Then I went back into a factory, where I began to learn capstan tool setting.
It was during this time I took up amateur boxing and was invited to a job in a factory which had a boxing club affiliated to the A.B.A., so I went there as a shop boy in the sheet metal department, staying until I was 23 years old, during which time I had become a skilled sheet-metal worker. It was about this time I took up boxing seriously and won my first fight by a knock-out in the first round, and, strangely enough, I won my first six fights by K.O.s. But the next one, which I lost, I was nearly K.O.'d myself.
After a fight with a chap in the Derby Police Force. who was middle-weight champion of Wales at that time, I was asked by an influential person to join the Derby Police Force, but I had a good job at that time and so was not too keen on the idea.
When I left this job I went to an aircraft factory which had just opened up, and it was here I first began active T.U. work. The firm was noted for its anti-Trade Unionism, so you can imagine the task I had taken on in trying to organize the Sheet Metal Workers. But after winning one or two concessions for the workers our task became a little easier, but this was not enough. So, having formed a small committee, we set about drafting a letter to the Works Manager, whom we had never been able to contact before. It so happened that I was first to sign the letter, so I was sent for by the manager. So I got the committee together and we selected two more to make up a deputation.
After a number of visits to the office there came our first big test. One of the men, who refused to be timed by the ratefixer, was instantly dismissed. Realizing this was a test case, because we had told the manager we would not tolerate the ratefixing system, we sent the news round that he was being sacked because he refused to be timed and the response was nearly 100% down tools, with the result we had a two-day strike, the man being reinstated and the ratefixer being temporarily removed.
In August, 1938, we had a big strike involving some 8,000 workers in the factory, demanding the District Rate, and after 10 days' strike, in which we held mass meetings outside the big factories both in Birmingham and Coventry, we were successful in getting the District Rate for about 75%.
After that I became Deputy Convenor for the Sheet Metal Workers until about March, 1940, when I left owing to shortage of work, and went to another factory. Here, after three months, I was elected Shop Steward, and shortly after was elected on to the Executive Council of the Birmingham and Midland Sheet Metal Workers Society.
I was influenced into the Party by a strong Party. sympathizer about two years ago, a comrade who has now joined the Party himself.