- Hits: 4882
Born in London in 1911, Sid Easton’s maternal grandparents had left Russia to escape the pogroms; his mother married an English Jew and the family moved to the USA in 1913 but returned a year later. He was then apprenticed to a cabinet maker but left over the bad working conditions, a strong sense of the need to fight social injustice emerging as he observed post-war conditions around 1920. He then worked at a cardboard factory, from which he was on strike during the General Strike of 1926.
Easton returned to the US in 1926, seeking work, and lived in Harlem until 1929. His prowess at football and boxing brought him a close knowledge of the gangster scene there but he decided to return to Britain in 1929.
Sid Easton began working as a London cab driver in 1935 and joined the Communist Party the same year. For much of the next two decades, the Party could command a membership of 120 cab drivers in the city, certainly one of the highest ratios amongst groups of workers. In time, he would become the Chair of the Region 1 Cab Trade Committee, the premier position for that segment of the Transport and General Workers Union, in which he was to become a key figure during the 1960s and 1970s.
During the Second World War he was in the army and, in 1952, he married Gladys (See entry for Gladys Easton). In 1949, he was asked by Peter Kerrigan to become Harry Pollitt’s bodyguard and driver, a role Sid was cut out for by virtue not only of his political steadfastness and personal affection for the Party’s General Secretary; his physical size, street-wisdom, pugilistic talents and driving ability were to stand him in good stead as the controversies of the Cold War boiled over to present Pollitt with actual physical danger.
Easton had already shown his street-fighting aptitude in struggles with Fascists and in defending Party speaker in open-air meetings. In normal conditions, a kinder and more equable man could not be found but he presented would-be assailants with a formidable presence. He was also bodyguard for a time for John Gollan, who would soon succeed Pollitt, but Sid never took to the man in the same way he had with Harry.
In 1957, after Pollitt retired, Easton went back to taxi driving and was a key figure in the leadership of a major strike of London cabbies in the late 1950s, the biggest ever. He became the Secretary of the Party’s `Transport’ Advisory, a body that was at the very centre of political leadership within his union.
From 1961 to 1968, he went full time for the Party to work purely on the campaign to lift the bans on Communists holding office in the T&G, that had been imposed in 1949 and resulted in a massive surge to right in that union during the 1950s. Equally, the successful amendments to the 1968 Rules Conference of the T&G heralded a firmer consolidation of Left hegemony that continues. It is no exaggeration to say that the centrality of Broad Left politics in the T&G is directly a result of the efforts of Sid Easton and his close comrade Erik Recknitz, who chaired the Communist Party Transport Advisory at the same time that Sid was Secretary. (see entry for Recknitz.) Privately, both felt that the hagiographic adulation given to Frank Cousins and Jack Jones under-estimated the vital role many, not just themselves, had also given in transforming a stagnant and bureaucratic organisation into the very essence of shop stewards’ democracy.
Back working on the ranks, in 1970, Sid Easton was elected to the T&G’s ruling body, the General Executive Council, as a London Territorial Representative for a substantial part of the overall membership of the union and served in that capacity for the rest of the decade. It was a powerful position and reflected the enormous regard felt for Sid by activists and leaders alike, a regard shown at his funeral in September 1991, at which the oration was given by Ron Todd.
See elsewhere on this site, in the Memoirs Section, `The Life and Times of Sid Easton’ – an oral history with additional tributes and an essay on the anti-communist bans in the T&G. Edited by Graham Stevenson (1993); Morning Star September 30th 1991