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Born in 1882 or 1883, Arthur Edward Swain was one of six brothers, all engineering workers.
They were born and brought up in the working class districts of old Birmingham.
Arthur was a foundation member of the Communist Party in Birmingham.
He normally worked as a brass finisher.
This involved the removal of blemishes on the metal, by means of sanding, buffing, and polishing.
During the First World War, he served with the 2nd South Staffordshire regiment. He was badly injured in action.
Arthur’s older brother, John Swain, who was five years older, got one month’s hard labour in 1922.
This followed a strike at West Bromwich’s sewage works that sought trade union rates for the job.
300 men had marched to the site, persuading 22 men who had gone back to work to come out again.
By the time of the 1922 Birmingham to London march of the National Committee of the Unemployed Workers, Arthur had been unemployed for the best part of five years. With five children to keep, Arthur was one of the most determined of the 26 local marchers. This led him to become the most imprisoned member of the inter-war Communist Party as he fearlessly courted arrest by standing up to speak in the Bull Ring and in localities.
He must have obtained some work in 1924, because he was described as a fender fitter (probably fender as in a fireplace surround) when he was given six months imprisonment for s speech in the Bull Ring in which he was supposed to have incited listeners to assault the police and the poor law officials.
In 1926, he was the main speaker for the Communist Party at its daily public meetings held during the general strike in the Bull Ring. The Attorney General contemplated prosecuting Swain for exhorting troops not to act against striking workers, along with Saklatvala (for his part in a Hyde Park Rally. In the event, Swain was not then prosecuted.
But in July 1927, at the age of 42, he was committed for trial tried in Birmingham on a charge of inciting persons to steal in a speech made at a street corner in Burlington Street, (Newtown), Aston, not too far from where he then lived. Seemingly, Detective Seargeant Friedman, who took a note of his speech, took the comment to the crowd of unemployed: “You cannot get anything nor take anything unless you are in great numbers” to mean Swain was urging mass stealing, rather than the revolutionary appropriation of the means of production!
Exactly the same charge was revisited in November 1930, during a period when Arthur was standing as a Communist candidate in Duddeston ward. He had spoken at no less than three open-air meetings in which he compared the lot of the unemployed with wild wolves when they faced starvation, which did not let themselves be `held back by police’.
He was also sent to jail in 1931 for leading a `riotous' march of the unemployed in Birmingham.
Left: Arthur's court record.
His son, also called Arthur, born in 1912, was also a life-long member of the Party, in fact until he died sometime in the 1970s.
Sources: various undated contemporary local Birmingham newspaper cuttings; miscellenous genealogical sources; GS personal knowledge.