Higgs Phil

Phil Higgs

A prominent Communist traders unionist in Coventry for many years, Higgs is pictured, left, as the successful candidate for the No 17 Divisional Organiser’s position in the AEU in 1984.

He was the union convenor at the Rolls Royce plant in Parkside, Coventry for 22 years.  Higgs played a prominent role in uniting convenors across the company’s plants across the country.

A youth volunteer in Yugoslavia in the 1940s, he was involved in rebuilding railway lines (with Edward Thompson and others). The inset from a larger picture (right) is believed to be of a very young Higgs, taken in Yugoslavia.

The 460-strong British youth brigade went during the summer of 1947 to build the Sarajevo to Samac railway line, in Yugoslavia, as an act of solidarity with entirely free labour.

photographed by Lewis Burgess.

Some of the young men in the picture are E P Thompson (see separate entry) front row, right; John Stonehouse, later the infamous `disappearing’ MP is probably the bearded man on the back row. Phil Higgs is probably the person sitting down, who is next to the man with his right arm raised) next to Thompson. Ronald Searle – the cartoonist – is reputed to be in the photograph but it is not possible to be certain as to which person he is. Though he may possibly be second from the left in the middle `row’ wearing a tunic.

Five of Searle’s drawings from Yugoslavia were published in `The Railway: An Adventure in Construction’ (1948). Alfred Sherman, who had been a machine gunner in the International Brigades uring the Spanish civil war but who would become an architect of Thatcherism in his late years, is at the rear of the group on the right, wearing a bush hat. At least one other brigader not pictured included Paul Hogarth (see separate entry).

Photograph by Lewis Burgess.

Voluntary youth work actions were commonly organised activities in Yugoslavia, used to build public infrastructure such as roads, railways, and factories for cable-making, toolmaking, and copper-rolling; there were hydroelectric dams, power stations, and all manner of public buildings. Youth Brigades had been first employed in territories liberated by the partisans during the Second World War and were, in consequence, much more popular than cynical Western propaganda allowed, in a country much more badly ravaged by war than even Britain and certainly the US.

In a little over seven months, over two hundred thousand young people completed the 150-mile long railway and its 37 miles of station roadbeds. The Šamac–Sarajevo youth railroad ran over 17 large bridges, all of which had to be built. The boring of the Vranduk Tunnel, slightly under a mile long, was a dramatic struggle from beginning to end. Always facing a danger of flash floods, the brigaders pushed the tunnel through at the speed of 59 feet a day on both sides.

As an extension of this interest, Phil Higgs helped found the city’s Belgrade Theatre, named after a major Yugoslav city and partially constructed with wood from that country.

A long-term prominent critic of revisionism within the Party, he moved to France in retirement in 1991 and joined the French Communist Party. Phil died aged 79 in 2001.

Sources: Morning Star February 9th 2001 and GS personal knowledge


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