Left – Gallacher in 1945
WILLIE GALLACHER (1881-1965)
WAS ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS
AND MOST LOVED OF
BRITISH COMMUNISTS –
HE WAS AN ELECTED COMMUNIST
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR
Born 25th December 1881 in Paisley, Willie Gallacher was to become an
engineering worker who first joined the Independent Labour Party in
1905 but a year later switched to the Marxist-inclined Social Democratic
Federation, which soon became the British Socialist Party.
An early campaigner for prohibition of alcohol, Gallacher was originally
a member of the temperance movement, often holding open-air debates
on Glasgow Green between 1908 and 1910. He became influenced by
‘The Industrial Workers of the World’ and their espousal of syndicalist
ideals whilst in the United States in 1911.
On his return to Britain, Gallacher became an active member
of the Amalgamated Engineering Union and a shop steward
at Albion Motors prior to the first world war. He was a
major campaigner against the declaration of war in 1914-1918.
Left: Gallacher in Illinois; Right – Albion Motor Works in 1911, Willie is second from right in second top row .
He led a strike for a penny an hour increase in the engineering and
shipbuilding industries of the Clyde from February 1915. Out of this grew the Clyde Workers Committee, which Gallacher chaired. He was arrested and put in Carlton Jail after the `Battle of George Square’ in 1919. Unrest in the central belt of Scotland was so serious that troops were despatched. Gallacher was twice imprisoned during these years.
(Left below – as this 1919 pamphlet testifies, Gallacher was already a mass hero by the end of the First World War.)
A firm supporter of the Bolshevik revolution, Gallacher was initially a sceptic with regard to parliamentary politics and the Labour Party As a former chairman of the CWC, he represented the Clyde shop stewards at the second congress of the Communist International in Moscow in July 1920, where he met Lenin who famously not only convinced him of the need for a Communist Party but also that it should contest elections; a matter not only of some irony, but also importance, since he was for a decade and half the Communist Party’s only MP.
Gallacher was one of the founders of the Communist Party in 1920 and was imprisoned in 1925, along with others of its leadership in advance of the General Strike. A member of its central/executive committee from 1922 to 1963, he was elected Communist MP for West Fife in 1935, after six years’ involvement in the miners’ struggles. This unique experience earned him considerable notoriety in Britain and elsewhere.
He published his early memoirs, “Revolt on the Clyde”, in 1936 and served the West Fife constituency as MP for a further 15 years, until 1951. For a long time, he was the only Communist MP in the House of Commons, until joined by Phil Piratin in 1945. His “The Case for Communism” was published by Penguin Books (1949) in very large numbers and was widely read. Gallacher also wrote very many pamphlets over the years.
Gallacher was chairman of the Communist Party until 1956, when he became president, a post which he held until 1963.
Right: Gallacher speaking at the Communist Party congress that endorsed the British Road to Socialism.
Gallacher’s 1965 funeral in his home town of Paisley was attended by the leading left-wing political figures of the day including Bob Stewart, Rajani Palme Dutt, D N Pritt, Hugh McDiarmid, Frank Stanley, John Platts-Mills, and Johnnie and Elsie Gollan. Among the pallbearers were Frank Stanley, Gordon McLennan and Peter Kerrigan.
Below left: Gallacher with the AEU contingent on a 1950s march
Below: Gallacher’s 1965 funeral procession…..
Below Right: a 1940s cartoon of Gallacher
(see below the pics for Willie’s maiden speech in Parliament)
Willie’s maiden speech (see below) as a Communist MP in the House of Commons on 4th December 1935 still reverberates down the decades:
“On this side of the House we represent and speak for the workers of this country, the men who toil and sweat. (Hon. Members: "So do we.") Oh! You do speak for the workers, do you? (Hon. Members: "Yes.") All right. We shall see.
The leader of the miners says that theirs is the hardest, most dangerous and poorest paid job in the country. Is there anybody who will deny it? The miners make a demand. They ballot for it, and the ballot is a record, and we who speak for and on behalf of the miners demand an increase of 2s. a day for the miners. We demanded it from these benches.
Now it is your turn. Speak now. Speak, you who claim to represent the workers. We say not a penny for armaments. It is a crime against the people to spend another penny on armaments. Every penny we can get should go in wages for the miners, towards the health and well-being of the mothers and the children and adequate pensions for the aged and infirm. Ten shillings a week.
I would like the Noble Lady (Lady Astor) to receive only 10s. and then she would change her tune. Last night the Chancellor of the Exchequer was meeting some friends, and they were having a dinner, the cost of which was 35s. per head. Thirty-five shillings per head for a dinner, and 10s. a week for an aged man or woman who has given real service to this country and has worked in a factory or mine.
We require every penny we can get in order to make life better for the working class. If the £7,000,000,000 which we spent during the War in ruin and destruction had been spent in making life brighter and better for the people of this country what a difference it would have made.
I would make an earnest appeal to those honourable members of the House who have not yet become case-hardened in iniquity. The National Government are travelling the road of 1914, which will surely lead to another and more terrible war, and to the destruction of civilisation. Are honourable members s going to follow them down that road?
The party which is represented on these benches, from which, at the present moment, I am an outcast, has set itself a task of an entirely different character, that of travelling along the road of peace and progress and of spending all that can be spent in making life higher and better for all. We invite those of you who are prepared to put service to a great cause before blind leadership of miserable pygmies who are giving a pitiful exhibition by masquerading as giants, to put first service to a great cause, not to a National Government such as is presented before us, but to a Labour Government drawing towards itself all the very best and most active and progressive elements from all parties and constituting itself, as a consequence, a real people’s Government concerned with the complete reconstruction of this country, with genuine co-operation with the other peace nations for preserving world peace, and a Government that follows the road of peace and progress.
I make an appeal even while I give a warning. Do not try to stop us on the road along which we are travelling. Do not try to block the road by the meshes of legal entanglements or by fascist methods."
Among very many sources thanks especially to: Gallacher Memorial Library, Glasgow Caledonian University; Supplement to “Scottish Miner” (1981)
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