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J R Gilmore

 

James R Gilmore was born in Cheapside, Birmingham, on March 16th 1914 to working class parents, his father being a wood-working machinist. The sixth child of nine, he went to an elementary school like the rest of his family.

 

After about 1923 when the young Jimmy’s father lost a disability pension despite being unable to work, life at home became difficult. His three elder brothers each joined the Army owing to unemployment. 

 

When Gilmour was only 11 years – in 1925 - he had to get a half-time job to make both ends meet. A job on a drilling machine lasted about three months and after that he got a job `mating’ on a motor-van for about a year. Then he went back into a factory, where he began to learn capstan tool setting. It was during this time he took up amateur boxing and was invited to a job in a factory which had a boxing club affiliated to the Amateur Boxing Association, so he went there as a shop-boy in the sheet metal department, staying until he was 23 years old, during which time he had become a skilled sheet-metal worker.

 

He then took up boxing seriously and not only won his first fight by a knock-out in the first round but repeated this relatively unusual feat in his first six fights. He lost the next fight, being nearly KO'd himself. After a fight with a member of the Derby Police Force, who was actually middle-weight champion of Wales at that time, he was asked by an influential person to join the Derby Police Force. His relatively good job then put him off the notion.

 

When he left this job and began work at an aircraft factory, which had just opened up, he first began active union work that would lead to a prominent role in the Birmingham & Midlands Sheetmetal Workers and his joining up with the Communist Party.

 

The aircraft firm was then still noted for its anti-trade unionism, so it was a hard task he had taken on, trying to organise sheet metal workers there. But after winning one or two concessions, things had improved a little but not enough. So, having formed a small committee, he and his fellow workers set about drafting a letter to the Works Manager, whom they had never been able to contact before. It so happened that he was first to sign the letter, so got sent for by the manager. He got a committee together and they selected two more to make up a deputation.

 

After a number of visits to the office there came the first big test. One of the men, who refused to be timed by the rate-fixer, was instantly dismissed for the offence. Realising this would be seen as a test of the resolve of the workers, since they had told the manager that they would not tolerate a piecework rate-fixing system, they made sure everyone in the factory knew that the man was being sacked because he refused to be timed. The response was nearly 100% down tools, with the result that a two-day strike was followed by the man being reinstated and the ratefixer being temporarily removed.

 

In August, 1938, they had a big strike involving some 8,000 workers in the factory, demanding the District Rate, and after 10 days' strike, in which mass meetings were held outside the big factories both in Birmingham and Coventry, they were successful in getting the District Rate for about three-quarters of the workers.

 

After that Gilmore became Deputy Convenor for the Sheet Metal Workers until about March, 1940, when he left owing to shortage of work, and went to another factory. Here, after three months, he was elected Shop Steward, and shortly after was elected on to the Executive Council of the Birmingham and Midland Sheet Metal Workers' Society. At his time, he was influenced into the Party by a strong Party sympathiser, a comrade who himself then took the step of also joining the Party himself.

 

Source: “How I joined the Communist Party” (Sept 1942)