Jones Bill (Liverpool)

Bill Jones

A Liverpool building worke,r Bill Jones was unfailingly loyal to his family, his class and his party. He died aged 80 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. A joiner, he served his union UCATT at all levels, having signed up at age 16, and remained a steadfast member of the Communist Party until the end.  When UCATT was formed in 1971 as a merger of three existing construction unions, he became a member of Kirkby branch and chairman of the branch until he retired.

His grass-roots activity was legendary, serving as a shop steward and convener at major sites in north-west England, including Carrington in Manchester, Bass Charrington in Runcorn, Courtaulds and Thorns in Skelmersdale, Risley prison in Warrington and the Royal Teaching Hospital and the Metropolitan Cathedral in his home city of Liverpool.

Jones was also the UCATT convener for 15 years at the Liverpool direct building works department. He served on the UCATT general council in 1977 and chaired the union’s North West regional council for 12 years.

He was among the founders of the Building Workers Charter rank-and-file group and a member of its editorial board in the 1960s and 1970s, working to build unionisation and direct action in an increasingly casualised industry. When the national building workers’ strike was called in 1972, Jones headed the Merseyside strike committee.

He was thus intimately involved in the campaign to free the Shrewsbury pickets, a group of building trade unionists fitted up by Tory ministers, the legal establishment and big construction employers for conspiracy to intimidate workers into joining the strike. Des Warren (see separate entry) was sentenced to three years in prison, Ricky Tomlinson to two years, John McKinsie Jones to nine months and others to shorter jail terms for unlawful assembly and affray.

During the battle to secure their release, win a pardon and get an inquiry into the real political conspiracy that had taken place, Jones regularly visited the three men in jail.

Despite widespread support from trade unions and expectations that these demands would be granted once Labour regained office in 1974, Labour home secretary Roy Jenkins, who later ratted on the party by founding the Social Democratic Party and assisting the Tories to win the 1983 general election, refused to countenance such an act for justice.

Jones joined forces with Ricky Tomlinson once again during the 1984-5 miners’ strike. Tomlinson by then had become an actor, getting his big break playing the trade unionist Bobby Grant in Phil Redmond’s soap Brookside, and they organised benefit concerts to raise money for the families of striking miners.

Tomlinson told the local paper in Liverpool: "He was very active in the campaign when we were on trial and was very active for years and years. He was a good man, a good socialist, a very strong but quiet man. Bill had a wicked sense of humour and will be greatly missed."

 In 2003, Jones became the first UCATT member to receive a special illuminated membership scroll from his union.

Presenting the award, UCATT president and fellow Scouser John Thompson paid tribute to Jones’s career and continuing support for the trade union movement. "Whenever Bill’s name is mentioned in union circles, people always have respect for him," he said. "Even if they disagreed with his politics, they always admired his honesty and consistency. Respect is only earned by the way you conduct yourself and Bill remained totally committed to his trade union and political values."

Jones’s commitment to the working class was once again recognised in 2007 when he received the Robert Tressell Memorial Award at a ceremony in LiverpoolTressell, an Irish-born building worker in Hastings, won posthumous renown for his book The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, which was a treasured possession of thousands of active construction trade unionists.

On top of his involvement in UCATT, Jones was also active in the trades council movement and was chairman of Knowsley Trades Council for many years. He was a TUC member of the Social Services Tribunal for 10 years and chairman of Merseyside Joint Union Committee.

He was a strong internationalist and encouraged exchange visits with trade unionists from other countries, including the Soviet Union.

He was an active supporter of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and fought against all forms of racism. He remained firmly committed to the Communist Party and he was a lifelong reader and supporter of the Morning Star.

During his working life, his main concern was for unity throughout the trade union movement and he was a passionate supporter of action to achieve the repeal of all anti-trade union laws.

He was survived by his wife Sal, children Chris, Shirley and Carolyn and seven grandchildren.

Sources: Morning Star 31st August 1988; Partially edited version of an obituary by John Haylett, Morning Star, 1st February 2010

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