Alf Salisbury (far left) demonstrating in Stepney in 1936
Alf was born to Latvian Jewish immigrant parents in 1909, one of ten children. He left school at 14 years of age and joined the merchant marine and the National Union of Seamen.
In 1926, he jumped ship in New York. A three-year trek across the USA saw him become involved with the IWW, the `Wobblies’. Back at sea in 1929, he was arrested in Guatemala as a spy and spent seven weeks in prison.
Returning to Britain, he joined the Communist Party in 1929 and remained a loyal Communist until the end of his life. In 1936, he was victimised by being placed on a proscribed list from going back into the merchant navy. Before then, and perhaps prompting this act, he had become an activist in the National Unemployed Workers Movement and participated in anti-fascist struggles, including Cable Street.
See Alf’s account of Cable Street here:
Alf joined the International Brigade in 1937 and returned to Britain in 1938 after the Brigades were withdrawn and became secretary of the Stepney NUWM.
Rejected on medical grounds for wartime military service, in 1940 he married Lilly Nicklansky, and moved to Maryport, Cumbria, where he worked in a munitions factory, organised for the Party, and became a shop steward. Back in London in the post-war period, in 1949, Alf was to be found throwing himself in front of lorries trying to cross the picket of striking hotel workers at the Savoy, in the Strand, London.
Alf was involved in East End housing campaigns and started a rent strike, becomg evicted in the process. Over the next years, he worked in the textile, clothing, chemical and furniture industries, on the railways, edning up with the London Co-Operative Society.
He spent his remaining years as a local activist of considerable renown, being involved with trades councils, and latterly with the shopworkers’ union Usdaw, until his death. In 1970, he co-founded the Waltham Forest Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
He remained involved with his union post-retirement, with London pensioners’ organisations and the International Brigade Association. In the 1980s, he was exceptionally active in supporting the miners’ strike and the printers sacked by Rupert Murdoch at Wapping, and the pensioners’ movement.
For four decades, he was a delegate to Westminster and City Trades Council. In 1970, he co-founded Waltham Forest CND. He died on November 5th 2000, aged 91.
Sources: Morning Star November 11th 2000; Guardian December 8th 2000; The life and times of Alf Salisbury by Liane Groves Cities of London & Westminster Trades Council.