Horner (1894-1968) was a founder member of the Communist Party in Britain in the 1920s, and served the party in many senior positions. His stature was immense, such that he was universally dubbed `Horner' and, in the labour movement, you knew who that meant.
Born in 1894 in Merthyr Tydfil, Horner was employed variously in his youth at a barber's, as a grocer's delivery boy and also at the local railway office. He had a religious upbringing and at seventeen obtained a scholarship to attend the Baptist College in Birmingham but he left after six months to pursue politics instead. He became employed at Standard Collieries in the Rhondda valley.
He opposed World War I and this led to him being imprisoned but released in 1919, when he was appointed as checkweighman at Maerdy colliery. Maerdy Colliery was long known for its militant and communist associations, and had a history of employing radicals as checkweighers. In 1920 he became a member of the Communist Party and along with Noah Ablett, A.J. Cook and S.O. Davies established the Miners' Minority Movement.
As an active trade unionist he became a member of the executive committee of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain in 1926, but his radical views led to him being removed from this in the early 1930s.
Differences he had with the leadership of the Communist Party are now well-documented. Recently revealed files from the security services in the National Archives reveal some of the tensions Horner felt between his roles in the Party and the Union.
Horner was first placed under Security Service surveillance in 1921 when he appeared on a list of suspected British communists. One file contains copies of Home Office warrants to monitor his correspondence at addresses in Maerdy and later Llanelli, South Wales, and the summary product of that surveillance
Horner stood as the Communist candidate at the elections for Rhondda East in 1931 and again in 1933, and was arrested in December 1931 for riotous assembly at Maerdy during a union protest. The watch on Horner's contacts by agents of the security forces continued while he was in Cardiff prison, and some of those who campaigned against his imprisonment were investigated. The Home Secretary granted 3 months of remission to his 15 month sentence.
The first indications of tension between Horner in his union role and the Communist Party appear in security files, which contains a Metropolitan Police report of October 1938 stating that "[the Communist Party] fear that they are losing their grip on Horner." The file includes further product of the surveillance on his phone and written communications, reports of mineworkers' meetings, and includes a history summary sheet with photographs of Horner.
In 1935, Horner, gained almost 32% of the poll in Rhondda East and then became the South Wales Miners' Federation president in 1936 and was appointed general secretary to the National Union of Mineworkers in 1944, a position he held until his retirement in 1959.
This role made Horner an even more special target for the security forces, whose files for the 1947-1950 period includes the suggestion, made by KGB turncoat Krivitsky, that Horner acted as a recruiting agent – there was no previous hint of this activity on the file.
Left above: a drawing of Arthur Horner tht appeared in the Daily Worker in 1940
In 1950-1952, the reports of tensions between Horner and the Party leadership increase (a Metropolitan Police report for instance refers to Horner's "disgrace" in the Party), and the 1953-1954 files encompasses the period where his dilemma led Horner to heavy drinking as he considered a possible defection from the Party. One report from an unnamed source describes how "…far from thinking it over, he is just drinking it over"!!
Horner died in 1969.
Publications by Arthur Horner:
(With Will Paynter) `Outlook for mining' (1958)
`Coal : the next round' (1926)
` One mineworkers' union – why?' (1927)
`Communism and coal' (with Alan Hutt) (1928)
`Right to strike' (nd)
`Towards a popular front' (1936)
`Trade unions and unity' (1937)
`Coal and the nation : a square deal for miners' (1943)
`Coal crisis : the miners' reply' (1944)
`The Communist Party and the coal crisis' (1945)
He also wrote an autobiography, `Incorrigible Rebel', published in 1960.
Sources include: South Wales Miners' Library or the Library and Information Centre, University of Wales Swansea.