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McMillan Joe

Joseph D McMillan

Joe McMillan was born in a poor family in the East End of Glasgow on the 2nd of December 1898. By 1911, he was working as a van-boy.

He fought in WW1, and was awarded the Belgium Croix de Guerre.

A foundation member of the Communist Party in Glasgow, he became a footplate man, that is to say, one of the crew in the cab of a locomotive who stood on a platform so as to operate the controls.

His commitment to socialism would have meant that he joined the National Union of Railwaymen (now RMT) rather than the craft-workers’ body, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF). Nonetheless, he was a participant in the 1924 footplatemens’ strike called  by ASLEF, even though the NUR refused to endorse the action.

The photograph of Joe is from a passport issued in 1929, not a very common occurrence then for working people. It is possible that he had acquired this in connection with some Communist Party international activity.

In the November 1930 municipal elections, Joe McMillan stood for the Communist Party in Calton ward. He lived at 106 Mordaunt Street, Bridgeton.

McMillan was the secretary of Glasgow & West Scotland division of the National Union of Railwaymen during the 1930s and was also a member of the NUR National Executive Committee. As such, he was the Party’s major rank-and-file leader amongst the NUR in the period in which he was mostly active, during the 1920s and 1930s, especially in the Railwaymen's Vigilance Movement.  This was established in late 1932 and inspired by the unofficial Grade Vigilance Committee, which had been established during World War One, to stop the dilution, and fight erosions in the pay and conditions of railway staff. Its journal was `The Railway Vigilant’.

The inaugural conference of the Vigilance Movement was held on the 3rd December 1932.  That month’s issue of `The Railway Vigilant’ stated that “as in the case of the London Busmen ... a movement, organised in the local depots and branches, and embracing all workers irrespective of Grade or Union divisions, can be a most powerful means of defeating ... the wage cuts demands of the companies”.

He was a strong advocate of the Daily Worker from its first issue in 1930 and won many in his union to accept its value. In early 1939, McMillan stated in the Daily Worker that: "We are deeply indebted to the Daily Worker for the magnificent way it has conducted itself in putting the case of the lower paid rail men before the public, at the moment when the companies are using the capitalist press to subject the country to a square deal propaganda barrage.”

Now living in Penicuik St in Glasgow, McMillan  was a regular delegate to the annual congress of the TUC  and regularly spoke from the rostrum during the late 30s and 40s. In 1945 Joe McMillan moved his union’s motion at the annual TUC congress, which would lead Labour to nationalise rail.

He died in 1946 and the Daily Worker carried a significant obituary.

Sources: Lynda Mackenzie (grand-daughter), Michael Walker