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Smith Harold

Harold Smith

Harold Smith was a leader of the seamen’s strike of 1925, a member of the Amalgamated Marine Workers’ Union (not TUC affiliated), who afterwards found himself blacklisted in most ports. Through family connections he started work in Southampton Docks in November of that year.

Although not then a Communist Party member, he was sympathetic to Bolshevik ideals. He joined the T&G, which at the time had a low membership in the docks. When the General Strike came, he was still on the EC of the AMWU as well as a T&G shop steward. The strike in the port of Southampton was solid.

Although politically very close, Smith never actually joined the Communist Party until the closing stages of the Second World War, for reasons which will emerge. But he was involved in most of the activities through the ‘30s, organising a 1d a week levy for the Hands Off China Campaign and the secreting of anti-nazi propaganda in the holds of ships with German connections.

In 1937, he became a paid lay official and in 1939 a full-time official proper. It is probable that he avoided Party membership so as not to disturb this possibility. The docks were closed as a commercial port within a fortnight of hostilities, Southern Railway, which then owned them, only keeping 100 men on their payroll. Harold organised these remaining dockers in port emergency squads providing safety cover and firewatchers for not only the Docks and the Fawley berths and refinery but also the railway from Eastleigh to Exeter.

Perhaps the most important development in the docks was the establishment of the Port Emergency Committee (the equivalent of a Joint Production Committee). The PEC was a joint body charged with (when the Docks re-opened) organising the priority of berthing and discharging ships and the dispersal of both cargo and ships. There were numerous disputes on this committee regarding berthing, discharge, dispersal and work practices and Harold was involved in the thick of all of them.

Southampton had always been a day working port and when Bevin decreed by Ministerial Order that the stevedores go over to piece-work there was an inevitable dispute because the crane drivers were to be excluded from the bonus payments. The dispute was only resolved after a threat by the dockers of no work until the crane drivers were included in the bonus arrangements.

Another dispute that Harold, through the PEC, become involved in was night working, which led to the development of ‘star lighting’, a form of lighting that enabled dockers to work safely on the quayside but couldn’t be seen by German bombers. Also, as the dockers were returning towards the end of the War, there as an attempt to cut the rate of £3.7.6d which had to be fought.

Smith claimed he was eased out of his job as a full time official. Following the appointment of another official called Chick in 1942, who Harold claims was a virulent anti-communist, there was campaign against him because of his ‘”subversive activities.” Even though he was the senior local official for the docks, if not for the union district, Smith complained that he was not allowed to send or receive correspondence through the union machinery, or even use the union telephone. As a result of this alleged victimisation by the union hierarchy, Harold left Southampton for Bournemouth, where he finally joined the Communist Party and resigned from office in the T&G.

Source: Adrian Weir, `The Minority Movement and After: a South Hants Perspective’, Our History, New Series No 6, July 2007