Edward ‘Ted’ Lismer
Ted Lismer was born in Sheffield, South Yorkshire in 1883, the eldest son of six children of Edward Lismer (a draper in a department store) and his wife Harriett. We can gain some knowledge about Ted’ early life from a biography of his brother’s life, (Arthur Lismer – the famous Canadian painter) by Angela Nairn Grigor entitled `Arthur Lismer (1885-1969) Visionary Artists Educator’. `We were a humble middle class family.’ Family life did not suffer as lower class families, but it was impossible to ignore the poverty which they were surrounded We also learn from this biography that the Lismer family was third generation Unitarian chapel goers.
In 1901, aged 17 Ted Lismer was employed as a Mechanical Engineer and living with rest of the family at Ecclesall, Sheffield, Yorkshire. He became active in the Sheffield trade union movement from about 1902 and was a member of the Steam Engine Makers Society, Union. In 1912, he was elected to the Executive of Sheffield Trades & Labour Council. (Sheffield had two rival Trades Councils until amalgamation in 1920. The Sheffield Federated Trades Council established in 1858, which was `non-political� and the Sheffield Trades & Labour Council.)
Sheffield was the crucible of the Shop Steward movement in England as Clydeside was in Scotland. Lismer worked with J T Murphy of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE) to establish the shop stewards� movement, first in the city and then nationally from 1916. The movement was pioneered by Sheffield no 8 ASE branch and the concept is outlined by J T Murphy in his booklet `The Workers Committee: an outline of the principles and structures’.
Lismer chaired the Sheffield Engineers Workers Committee; this was a body comprised of stewards from every factory in the City and while it was initiated as an `economic’ response to war time conditions, it soon became political; most importantly, once established the committee was never defeated.
In 1917, a massive engineering strike took place in Sheffield and across much of the country), when the Government attempted under a draft Dilution Bill to renege on agreement that skilled men who volunteered for munitions work would not be conscripted for military service. This had been a right won by the ASE as a result of a previous strike in Sheffield against the military call up of ASE member Leonard Hargreaves in November 1916. From the ASE Institute in Stanley Street, Sheffield, the strike of Sheffield engineers was waged between the evening of 7th May and the return to work on 24th May 1917. At one meeting 20,000 Sheffield engineering workers attended a union meeting at the Olympia.
As leader of Sheffield Workers Committee, Ted Lismer worked with Willie Gallacher, David Ramsay and Jack Murphy to organise a National Conference of Shop Stewards and Workers Committees in January 1920. The first act of the National Conference of Shop Stewards was to vote to affiliate to the Communist International. Lismer subsequently became a founder member of the Sheffield Communist Party, established on the 18th August 1920, primarily by some thirty-plus British Socialist Party members in the City.
In January 1921, a body, which became the British Bureau of the Red International of Labour unions (RILU), was established to stop the massive cuts in pay and conditions, and to offer an alternative to what was perceived as poorly led British unions. Ted Lismer was elected as the British bureau�s first organising secretary, a position based in Manchester, and Tom Mann elected as Chair. Its network of local organizers included Frank Jackson (Lancashire) Nat Watkins (South Wales) Will Brain (Birmingham).
In April 1921, a London District Committee was established with Harry Pollitt as Secretary, which became very active with militant trade unionists such as George Sanders, Frank Smith (metal workers), Jack Tanner (engineers), Alec Squair (unemployed), Tommy Knight (Secretary, London Workers Committee), Wal Hannington (Engineering) Joe Vaughan (Electricians), Sam Elsbury (Clothing) and A (Arthur) J Cook (Miners). For a short spell London even had its own RILU journal, `Solidarity’.
The organisation’s first campaign was an appeal for unions to choose between the `yellow union’ international, based of Amsterdam (Social Democratic), or RILU, based in Moscow. This plea secured just two unions to affiliate to RILU, the powerful South Wales Miners Federation and the National Union of Packing Case Makers, a small East London union). RILU’s monthly journal, `All Power’, first appeared in 1922 and had a circulation of 12,000 based at 59 Cromer Street, London WC1. This was edited by Harry Pollitt (Boilermakers), helped by Tom Quelch (Compositors), Nat Watkins (Miners) and Frank Jackson. Contributions came from Tom Mann, Nat Watkins (Miner), J T Murphy (Engineers), Ellen Wilkinson, George Hicks, Frank Smith, William MacLaine (Engineers), Ness Edwards, George Hardy (Seamen) and Walton Newbold.
On the 15th October 1921, RILU organised a delegate conference in London of 650 delegates representing 300 trade union branches, with the chair being taken by Fred Thompson, the dockers’ leader. This success was followed by a national union recruitment week held between December 1-8th 1921 and a general `Back to the unions’ recruitment campaign in 1922, which many trades councils supported.
RILU played a vital role in supporting the Engineers during the 1922 bosses� lock out, which affected 250,000 engineers. This was a crude attempt to impose pay cuts and change conditions.
Ted Lismer had become Vice-Chair of Sheffield Trades & Labour Council in 1920 and fellow Sheffield Communist George Henry Fletcher (see separate entry) was Chair. Lismer oversaw the National Minority Movement inaugural conference of August 1924 but, soon after this, left Sheffield. Little is presently known of his life afterwards, except that we learn from his brother’s biography that Ted visited the Soviet Union. Ted Lismer died in 1947 and the Report of the Executive Committee to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of Great Britain noted his passing by commenting that Ted Lismer `played a noble part in the fight for the formation of our Party’.
Sources: Sheffield and the General Strike by Bill Moore; Sheffield Shop Stewards 1914-1918 by Bill Moore; Communism & British Trade Unions 1924-1933 by Roderick Martin