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Warburton Fred

Fred Warburton

Warburton was born on the 11th April 1892, the eighth of thirteen children in a family of strict Methodists in a small town in east Lancashire called Horwich.  In 1898, the family moved to Liverpool, then to Manchester and finally settled in Leeds, His father became a strong trade unionist, being a journeyman Boilermaker and began taking the Clarion and reading books like Edward Bellamy’s `Looking Backwards’. His father became a member of the Leeds Labour Representation Committee at a time that saw the election of the first Labour councillor for East Hunslet. Fred Warburton’s elder brother James Alfred (Alf) was at least equally - perhaps more - an activist, possibly in the Boilermakers Society.

Warburton left school at 13 and became a `rivet lad’ and later an apprentice rivetter. In 1911, when the engineering unions nationally won a rise of 1/- per week rise apprentices were left out of the deal. Warburton and his mates decided to strike, since his father was the president of their local branch his fellow apprentices thought it fell to him to lead. During the course of this experience Warburton discovered a talent for making an argument.

Once he was `out of his time’ (no longer an apprentice), Warburton had two or three short spells of work in different places before he got a regular place at a repair shop. It was while working at Bia, Peacock’s in Manchester that he met Harry Pollitt, also a boilermaker.

Having joined the Territorials to give himself a chance to travel, Warburton found himself a “reluctant soldier” and was sent to France in April 1915 and then to what was then called `the Near East’ (now the Middle East) and did not get home until seven months after the war had ended. He felt resentment that he had “been robbed of 5 years in a capitalist war”.

He had joined the SLP and was active during the war in propagandising his fellow soldiers. During the Hands Off Russia campaign began, he and a comrade bought two dozen copies of the Herald with the full page `HANDS OFF RUSSIA’ advert and posted them their workplace and on walls in Wakefield where he now worked although the soon found himself unemployed.

After the foundation conference of' the Communist Party, he had taken his Party card in place of his SLP one. He became active in the National Unemployed Workers Committee Movement until the Bradford District Organiser of the Party told him that he had had a letter from Pollitt recommending he work directly for the Party, particularly on Minority Movement work.

He began working down the pit at Water Haigh Colliery and was asked to stand for union office but rejected this suggestion lest the taking of office would tarnish his socialist convictions. Through the Minority Movement he met A.J. Cook and after a strong argument he convinced him of the error of such a position.

Warburton became Secretary of the Yorkshire Miners Minority Movement and the main propagandist for the Party throughout Yorkshire. By 1925, he was producing a bulletin sheet called the `Pit-Worker’. The Under Manager at his pit called him into his office and tried in vain to find out who was responsible for the bulletin. On the point of being dismissed and being thus detained, Warburton asked the manger to sign a form to cover half a shift overtime, reminding him that if a man was detained at the pit on matters that were not affecting his work he must be paid and that the Mining Act stipulated this quite firmly. This appeared to stave off attempts to sack him until the 1926 strike took place.

Even so, the wart against the rank and file bulletin continued. The manager issued a notice instructing that no paper of any sort could be taken down the pit and doubled the searches on men. All sorts of snap tins (lunch boxes) appeared from chocolate tins to the orthodox ones. Miners were used to carrying paper for `sanitary’ purposes, so the next Pit-Worker had a comment that `Bum Fodder’ would be hung at every gate end. Satire of this sort was loved by the miners and, by now, the Minority Movement had a regular group of 60 that met weekly on a Sunday.

Warburton was a member of the Yorkshire Miners Association and now found himself, along with another comrade, in a branch that had a Labour councillor as its Chairman but was not affiliated to either the Trades Council nor the Labour Party. They became the branch’s first delegates to the Labour Party and Trades Council, a position they both held until expulsion.

In 1924, he stood for election to the EC of the Trades Council and received what was then and perhaps still is the highest vote ever recorded. The following year he became Vice Presiden.

Warburton was now travelling to London each fortnight as a member of the EC of the MM. Due to his knowledge of the Unemployment Acts, he was an advisor to the local NUWM. This obliged him to sit on adjudication boards as a workers’ representative, along with one for the employers and a solicitor as chairman. On one occasion, he found that the employers’ rep was a pawnbroker. This enraged Warburton and what followed resulted in him being suspended from the panel for 6 months.

During the General Strike, Warburton was involved in the printing of a Leeds strike bulletin and in the organisation of a Council of Action. He was arrested on the night the strike was over and was bound over to keep the peace.

Warburton visited the Soviet Union in 1927 and fought five local elections for the Communist Party and two for the Labour Party.

In later years, he was seen as a stalwart of Labour. Fred turned down an MBE, which appears in some way to be related to the fact that he was at sometime `employed’ by the wartime Ministry of Information, which briefly carried on work until the late 1950s. Why he should decline the honour may be open to question since not very much is known about that aspect of his life.

Sources:  typescript sent by Fred Warburton to Bill Moore, Roger Boyle - Ford Maguire Society, Andy Halton,