Henry Suss, who was born in 1915, was the youngest of nine children born to Galician Jewish immigrants from the borders of Poland and Austria, who arrived around 1890; his father worked as a pedlar. Henry was born and lived his first 24 years in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, in the shadow of Strangeways prison. Family life was hard, with periods when there was little food and the children survived on bread and sugar. At 13, when he passed the high school examination, his family could not afford for him to go.
Henry was a life-long Communist; in his working life, he followed his siblings and went into the clothing industry, and quickly became a self-taught master tailor. For most of his working life, he remained a clothing worker in Manchester. He was almost always the shop steward in the factories in which he worked, and would claim, with his usual humour, that the workers in his factories were the highest paid in the north-west.
He became politically active in the fight against Mosley’s Blackshirts in the Cheetham Hill district during the 1930s. No less than 34 of his relatives in Europe were rounded up into concentration camps. Still in his teens, Henry joined the Theatre of Action and campaigned for “Aid to Spain”. He joined the Cheetham Hill Branch of the Communist Party in 1936.
Before the Second World War, he joined the Unity Theatre and worked alongside, among others, Joan Littlewood and Ewan MacColl, giving him a lifelong love of theatre, and Shakespeare in particular. He was a keen walker, and in the 1930s took part in the mass trespasses on Kinder Scout.
He spent five years in the army during the Second World War then, returning to the clothing trade, he became a highly respected activist in the Tailor and Garment Workers in Pendlebury, near Salford. He was elected as a regional official of the NUTGW (which later merged into the GMB) and served on the national executive for 26 years.
Testament to the vitality of his spirit, in his late 40s, he was once arrested for painting "ban-the-bomb" slogans on walls. Henry also campaigned locally on the issue of rents and slum housing so effectively that in 1964 he was elected a Communist Party local councillor. Although, this was the outcome of a tenacious struggle to gain local acceptance, his mass work in the locality in which he lived was decisive in this achievement. Suss stood unsuccessfully as a Communist candidate for the Market Ward of the then borough of Swinton and Pendlebury, Greater Manchester, on 10 occasions – before, on the 11th attempt, being elected as the first Communist to the local council in May 1964.
He had made this breakthrough having led a vigorous fight for better housing conditions and improved compensation for homeowners when their properties were compulsorily purchased for slum clearance. In 1967 he was returned for a second term but, because of boundary changes, his ward later disappeared, and with it his seat.
Henry remained politically active in spite of advanced years and failing sight, in the Sedgemoor Peace Group, which campaigns against the war in Iraq, the International Brigade Association, the Working Class Movement Library in Salford, and led a fight to save his local Post Office at Burnham-on-Sea, where he spent his last years in a home for the blind. An excellent book about Henry has been produced and is available from the author: for details e-mail:
Henry had been a member of the Communist Party for 50 years, when the internal wars of the 1980s saw his Party desert him. In his very last years, with a renewed sense of political vigour returning, Henry celebrated by rejoining the re-established Communist Party of Britain. He took part in 2003 in the massive anti-Iraq war demonstration, when he was 87. With his white stick, his 1% eyesight, and osteoporosis in his hips, he only managed to walk halfway, but his mind was as sharp as ever. Henry’s wife, Ann, predeceased him in 1999, a week after their 60th wedding anniversary and Henry himself died aged 91 in 2007.
Various sources; incl. Guardian 2nd July 2007