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Jack Hendy

 

Originally from Cornwall, electrician Jack Hendy met his wife, Mary, in an aircraft factory where they both worked during the war. Mary was, it happened, also the youngest daughter of Baron Wynford, a hereditary peerage created for an early 19th century politician, with an estate near Dorchester in Dorset.

 

But the then incumbent Baron was also an active Labour Party member, which oddly turned out to be more damaging for Mary’s growing radicalism. The fact that Jack had by now become a committed Communist proved to be a real problem for Mary’s family, the Best family, and she found herself disowned by nearly all of them 

 

Left: Jack at the 1952 Rules Revision Conference held at Whitley Bay.

 

Jack Hendy was a key activist in the Electrical Trades Union from 1941 when he became the national convenor of a Party group within the union until the early 1960s. Until going to university to study Economics for a period in the late 1940s, He was the Secretary of the Communist Party’s influential sub-committee, the Electrical Advisory, effectively the Party’ faction within the union (the term implied that a group of leading comrades `advised’ the Party’s Executive Committee. 

 

In 1946, he went on a scholarship to the LSE for four years where he took a BSc (Econ). Returning to the tools, Hendy elected shop steward for London Co-op Society and the Executive Council of the ETU at a by-election that took place at the end of 1956.

 

By 1956, Hendy had acquired a role as part of the union’s education work at Esher Place and he was on the EC from 1957 to 1961, representing west and north-west London, Bucks, Herts, and Middlesex.

 

To a large extent, the 1961 `ballot rigging’ legal case had less to do with any `rigging’ as such and much more to do with the simple fact of the existence of a Communist fraction within the union. The key legal notion  at the heart of the case was the common law offence `conspiracy to defraud’; in a sense proving a conspiracy was rather more a serious matter than the proving of fraud!

 

In the final analysis, the court case hung upon a letter written by Hendy to Les Cannon (see separate entry), then a fellow Party member but later a vicious anti-Communist renegade, to Hendy. The letter, dated November 23rd 1951,was by way of a report of a Party advisory meeting to Cannon, with whom Hendy was then friendly. Hendy had mentioned nominations for the election of the ETU delegation to the TUC in the context of a sort of complaint about the manner in which he had been out-manoeuvred in discussion by Frank Haxell over which names to promote. As a consequence of the discussion, Hendy thought it unlikely that he would end up as a TUC delegate.

 

The background to this was that Hendy had been the Secretary of the advisory in the immediate post-war period. But, whilst he was at the LSE, Jack Fraser (see separate entry) had taken over from him. None of this was outwith everyone’s support for the Communist Party but was strictly linked to each person’s personal ambitions. Fraser was clearly more favoured by the existing leading figures within the union and was himself probably being groomed long-term for the leadership.

 

Hendy had struggled to gain acceptance on his resumption of activity within the advisory after attending the LSE and, naturally, sought support from younger Communists such as Cannon. But his letter to Cannon was now a key piece of evidence that confirmed – from the horse’s mouth – the existence of the Party Advisory. The clandestine nature of the Advisory – Party activists now sought vainly to declare it discreet and non-constitutional rather than unconstitutional – was massively fanned both in court and in the media as a smokescreen to obscure the fact that no actual evidence linked order from King Street, via the Advisory, to actual manipulation of union rule resulting in real forged votes. The case rested purely on the opinion of the judge that the very act of the Communist Party having a closed and discreet Advisory was in itself necessarily always a conspiracy.         

 

Nonetheless, Justice Winn was forced to exonerate Jack of electoral fraud, noting that he had acquired the nick-name of “Honest Jack”!  Winn judged him to be “a man of intellectual honesty as well as intellectual power, personally honourable to the extent that he would not adopt any course of conduct which seemed to him to be unjust to unless a considerable advantage to the Communist Party left him no choice”.

 

Jack  was debarred by the now totally dominant and ruthless right-wing from holding office in the ETU for seven years, despite Winn’s exoneration, basically for not opposing the decision of the EC to award the election to Haxell.

 

Jack later studied law at night school and became a barrister, although he never practised. Instead he taught industrial law at Ealing technical college.

 

More happily, Stephen Sedley [or to give him his full title, “The Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Sedley”, judge of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales] has said that Hendy, as a law lecturer who started life as a jobbing electrician, once said to him a most profound thing - that he had found that in both trades that the most useful thing you could have with you was “a well-filled box of junk”. It seems this is meant to point up the relative paucity of weight of statute law to precedent.

 

An activist in his union as a college lecturer, Jack Hendy became the first President of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education at its first conference in July 1976, when the unions ATTI and ATCDE came together.

 

Much later in life, in retirement, the couple moved from Ealing to Cornwall, where they remained Communist Party members.

 

Below: right  - on the ETU's delegation to the 1958 TUC; left - in 1977