Ernest or ‘Ernie’ Woolley was born in Lancashire and was a member of the Engineering Union. He was a member of the Openshaw Branch of the British Socialist Party when the Communist Party was formed and like most of its members joined the Party; he was considered a very eloquent speaker and became the popular choice as first ever Manchester District Organiser of the Young Communist League, shortly after its formation.
Manchester then had two YCL branches with over 50 members, but Ernie’s brief seemed to cover YCL work across Lancashire. He was the moving force in the summer of 1921 of the Manchester District Communist Party Cycle Corps. The purpose of the corps was to form links between towns, should the Party be made illegal and in order to distribute Communist Party publications, a number of which had already been deemed seditious. Ernie also taught key members how to write in code, ensuring that the code was changed regularly.
He became a full time Communist Party Organiser and worked as the Party’s first Industrial Organiser, developing workplace cells, in 1925, his first six weeks being spent in the North West. At the same time he was elected to the Communist Party’s Central Committee, which he served on for two terms. A member of the Minority Movement’s Bureau (Executive), he was imprisoned for two months for his involvement in strike activities in Fife during the General Strike of 1926.
Ernie Wooley was also involved in the organisation of the textile strike against wage cuts and the struggle against the introduction, ‘factory by factory’, of the eight-loom system in Burnley and Bradford, which led to strike action by the mainly non-unionised textile workers, primarily in Bradford in April-May 1930. In Burnley, Ernest was involved in the establishment of a Weavers Action Committee culminating in an attempt to storm the Fould’s Mill on 6th March 1930. A Textile Aid Campaign was established to organise relief for the women textile workers, many of whom received no strike pay, because they were not in unions. This was initially under the umbrella of the Workers International Relief but then handed to the Minority Movement. As a result of Ernie’s activities in Burnley and for addressing a Labour Exchange meeting, he was sentenced to six months jail with hard labour.
He spent a number of years in the Soviet Union and, during the Spanish Civil War, he worked in Catalonia as an engineering technician. After World War 2, he became a manager but when his workers went on strike he joined them. Ernie Woolley later emigrated to Australia.
Sources: `The Communist Party in Manchester 1920-1926′ by Ruth & Edmund Frow; `Generation in Revolt’ by Margaret McCarthy
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