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Shon (R J) Silverthorne

 

The younger brother of Thora Silverthorne (see separate entry), Reginald J Silverthorne was born in 1913 in Bedwellty, Monmouthshire.

Their father, George Richard Silverthorne, was a coal miner, their mother, Sarah Boyt the daughter of a hauler from Bargoed. The eight children and their parents lived at 170 Alma Street, Abertillery. George worked at the Vivian and Six Bells pits and was an activist in the South Wales Miners Federation and a founder member of the Abertillery Communist Party.

Reg was known to the family as `Shon’,or `Shun’, probably a Welsh variant of his second name “John”, usually rendered in the Celtic fringe as Sean or Shaun, or in Wales `Sion’, pronounced phonetically (by Welsh accented people) more like “Shohn”. His friends and comrades would call him that throughout his life, leading to his being rendered in documents as “R J”.

Thora and Reg were both in the Abertillery Young Communist League but most of the family moved to Reading, staying with an aunt at first while looking for work. On 22nd July 1936, Reg Silverthorne was arrested in Reading with two other young men for making an unauthorised collection for the Spanish Medical Aid Committee.

A member of the Communist Party from his youth, Reg was long a lay activist of the Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsmen Trade Union (later the Draughtsmen’s and Allied Technicians Association, or DATA), when he became a London organiser

An AESD strike he led, which secured nation-wide support, at Middlesex Tool & Gauge Company, lasted five weeks from 25th August 1953 until it was settled on the 28th September. Silverthorne reported that "our members were diffident at the outset of the strike action, carrying sandwich boards or walking on a picket line, but at the conclusion of the dispute they even acted as pickets for other trade unionists who were on strike, and took part in a demonstration to assist them".

During 1959, he was the servicing official for Pressed Steel Co., Oxford, which 1950s made car bodies for most of the major UK automotive companies, including Rolls-Royce, Rootes, and Standard-Triumph. Silverthorne led one of the bitterest strikes of the time that established white collar trades unionism as having as much militancy as manual counterparts had already done. The success of the PSC strike led to many others in the Midlands and established the AESD as a major union in the car industry.

PSC skilled manual workers were on £16 9s 6d plus a bonus, a very lucrative wage at that time. The nearly three hundred workers organised by AESD in the drawing office put in a claim for parity. Some two-thirds of them were young workers under the age of 25.  A settlement on pay that established parity at 25 years and an astronomic wage of over £13 for a 21 year old was followed by a six week strike for a three week annual holiday claim that was refused by PSC. The strike ended in mid-June to enable negotiations but, after a failure to obtain progress, remarkably and unusually, the strike simply started up again.   

Such a success must have placed Reg Silverthorne in a strong position to rise in his union. He rapidly rose to the chair of the union side of the Civil Aviation NJC, but died suddenly, aged only 48 in 1961 without any warning signs, after suffering a critical heart attack.

Thora, who had always had a special place in her heart for Shon, her little brother, had just gone through the process of mourning for her father, and was now subject to a prolonged period of profound grieving.

Sources: Daily Worker November 4th 1961;

The Draughtsman, July 1959 [thanks to Michael Walker];

http://ourhistory-hayes.blogspot.co.uk/2010_03_01_archive.html;

http://narescraig.co.uk/memoirs/part02.htm