Despite being thoroughly Welsh, Tom Jones was – like Lloyd George – in fact born in Lancashire, in his own case during the course of 1908. But his family soon settled in that vibrant Welsh-speaking coal mining village of Rhosllannerchrugog, Denbighshire: “one of the most politically conscious villages in Wales” according to Huw T Edwards.
He worked for 14 years as a miner in Hafod, Vauxhall and Bersham collieries, in Denbighshire, His experiences as a miner in the 1920s led him to became associated with the Labour Party from 1928. However, for a key period of time he was a member of the Communist Party. In the late 1930’s, he became Secretary of the local Rhos Peace Council.
In 1937 he joined the International Brigade to fight in Spain, joining the elite Anti Tank Battery. At the final battle on the Ebro, in July 1938, he was badly wounded in the right arm and captured by the Fascists.
His family believed him dead, but he was amongst prisoners kept in harrowing conditions in jails at Saragossa and Burgos. At one point he was in fact sentenced to death, though this was subsequently commuted to thirty years imprisonment. He shared a cell with Irish Republican and Communist Frank Ryan.
In March 1940 he was released as a result of a deal, whereby the British government paid a king’s ransom of £2 million to the Spanish government. Henceforth Tom Jones was to be known by many as ‘Twm Sbaen’. (Tom from Spain)
On his return to Wales he found work in a brewery and then at Monsanto Chemicals, Ruabon, where he became active in the Transport and General Workers’ Union. During the war he became an officer in the Home Guard.
His work to build the TGWU soon impressed the union’ leaders and became a full time officer under Huw T Edwards, the secretary for region 13 (North Wales) based at Shotton. He then became TGWU Officer for Wrexham.
In 1953, he succeeded Edwards as Regional Secretary and, when the north and south Wales regions were amalgamated to form region 4, Tom Jones became its secretary until his retirement in 1973. In many ways Tom Jones saw the T&G as the ideal union. He considered that it did not suffer from the narrow outlook evident in some single industry unions largely because of the variety of trades it represented. He claimed that in the T&G it was possible to ‘look through many windows’.
Tom Jones was never one to go cap in hand to London when problems could be more readily solved in Wales and he rightly took great pride in being one of the main instigators behind the founding of the Wales TUC in 1972. Few have contributed so much to the building of trade unionism in Wales. He retired in 1973, having become a deacon in the Welsh Congregational Chapel at Connah’s Quay. He accepted an O.B.E. in 1962 and a C.B.E. in 1974. But Tom Jones valued more the honour bestowed on him by the post-Franco Spanish government when it made him a Knight of the Order of Loyalty. He died on 21 June 1990, aged 81.
Sources: Gwyn Jenkins `Llafur’ (1991);`It was my Privilege’ by Huw T Edwards; Hywel Francis `Miners Against Fascism’; and Michael Walker.
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