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Cleston Taylor

Cleston Taylor was born in St Catherine, Jamaica, in 1926. His father was a peasant farmer and his mother a housewife. Cleston attended school until the sixth form and then went to the United States in pursuit of work.

A turning point in his life was when he met black Communists in Toledo, Ohio, in 1945. They clearly explained the capitalist system and the racism bred from it and informed him of the anti-imperialist struggle in Africa.

On his return to Jamaica, Cleston met the outstanding Jamaican Marxist activist and scholar Richard Hart and Dr Audley Lewis, a British Communist living on the island.

Both had a profound effect on Cleston and he joined the People's National Party (PNP), which had a strong left-wing and Marxist influence. He also became an activist in the PNP trade union organisation, the Trade Union Congress, which was the most militant of the unions in Jamaica.

He led sugar workers in a long and bitter strike against the government, employers, British armed troops and riot squads which resulted in the tear-gassing of strikers and injuries to workers.

Jailed for 30 days and then put on trial on a series of charges which carried a 30-year sentence, Cleston continued his fight for justice. Although he was eventually found not guilty, he was blacklisted. He found it impossible to obtain employment and, following the expulsion of the left Marxist wing of the PNP, due to cold war influences, he decide to emigrate to Britain.

Arriving in London on a cold Thursday in March 1952, he joined the Communist Party the following Monday, coming into immediate contact with Billy Strachan, a fellow Jamaican and an important figure in the Communist Party. Through Strachan, Cleston joined CaribbeanLabour Congress which had been set up after World War II in support of national and anti-colonial struggles in the Caribbean.

Cleston later became a leading member of the West Indian Committee of the Communist Party, working alongside Strachan, the late Trevor Carter, and Claudia Jones among others. From the mid-1960s, Cleston had differences with leading members of the party on colonial matters, but he never spoke against the party in public and on occasions sternly rebuked those who did so. He spoke very fondly and with warmth of the vast majority of Communist Party people he met over many years and said he always experienced true friendship and welcome and certainly did not encounter racism from any.

On his arrival in Britain, Cleston joined the old Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers and worked on construction sites across the country. His first job, building a police station in south London, resulted in him being elected shop steward. In every subsequent job, Cleston was elected to this position. It was an amazing achievement at that time for a black man in an overwhelmingly white workforce which speaks volumes for his character and integrity and his ability to listen and reach out to all.

He selflessly led many struggles for improved conditions, better pay and against discrimination over the years and became known to his trade union mates as "Chris."

In later years, Cleston formed Caribbean Labour Solidarity, which continues to support the national and anti-imperialist fight in the West Indiesand became life president. He also became an enthusiastic member of the Socialist History Society, helping to introduce talks on Caribbean affairs. He died in 2010.

Source: David Horsley, Morning Star 8th April 2010