Walter Hannington was an infamous leader of unemployed struggles in Britain between the wars. He was born on 17th June 1896 in Randall Street, Camden Town, London into a large family, his father being a bricklayer. Relatives of one Herbert Hannington, suspect that Wal was his uncle, in which case Wal’s father would have been Louis Hannington, born in Chalk Farm. [Information supplied by Vicki Edwards.]
He was apprenticed to a toolmaker at 14 and joined the Toolmakers' Society during the 1914-18 War, and married his wife, Winnie, in 1917. He joined the British Socialist Party during this period and became a member of the Toolmakers’ London committee. He went over to the Amalgamated Engineering Union in the 1920 merger and was a founder member and life long Communist Party member.
Made unemployed during the 1921 slump, he helped found the National Unemployed Workers' Committee Movement (NUWM), which organised hunger marches and other activities to draw attention to the consequences of unemployment. Hannington was National Organiser of the NUWM from its formation at the International Socialist Club, City Road, Hoxton, on the 15th April 1921.
In 1922, as the leading figure in the national hunger march on London, he was arrested in Leicester and jailed for a month. While in gaol he stood for Parliament as the Communist candidate for Bermondsey West. With 11 other Communists, he was sentenced in 1925 to three years imprisonment. In the general election of 1929 he stood as Communist candidate at Wallsend.
Hannington successfully prosecuted Lord Trenchard, then Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and two policemen for wrongfully breaking into the offices of the NUWM in Great Russell St, London, and was awarded damages. [Pic right: Hannington on an unemployed lobby of No 10 Downing St in 1931 – he had been recently beaten by a police truncheon.]
In his autobiography, he vividly describes the endless demands of local authorities, the deputations to the TUC, fights with the police, local and national Hunger Marches. He recounts dramatic episodes involving fake coffins and occupations of salubrious restaurants of the rich. He organised a series of activities, including a lie-down in Oxford Street, to illustrate the effects of unemployment. He was sent to prison for several months, after an unemployed march on Parliament in 1932, as "a disturber of the peace ". Hannington led the very last Hunger march, which took place in October/November 1936, and led the NUWM until its effective end in 1939.
A life-long member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, he became its National Organiser in 1942. In this, he was particularly associated with the wartime relaunch of the shop stewards’ movement in the engineering industry. He was beaten during the cold war in a re-election for his position as National Organiser in 1950 but later became the Assistant Divisional Organiser for the No. 25 Division. He formally retired from trade union work in 1961 but was still attending
demonstrations in 1964 against the then Government imposed "Pay Pause".
Wal Hannington died in November 1966. He died aged 71, just after leaving Hammersmith hospital, where he had been having a medical examination. The then General Secretary of the Communist Party, John Gollan was reported to have commented that: " Wal Hannington was one of the great, cheerful, and optimistic figures of our movement – a founder of the Communist Party and a great leader of the engineers and of the unemployed. His life was a model of service to his class."
Pic: right: in 1936, front row second left, with NUWM leaders, Pat Devine (extreme left), Maud Browne (front, third from left), Harry MacShane (fron, third from right)
Publications by Hannington:
`The meaning of the Blanesburgh report’ (1929)
`Unemployed Struggles 1916-1936’, Lawrence & Wishart (1936)
`The Problem of the Distressed Areas’, Victor Gollancz (1937)
`Black Coffins and the Unemployed’ Fact Monograph, No. 26 (1939)
`Ten Lean Years: An Examination of the Record of the National Government
in the Field of Unemployment’ Victor Gollancz/Left Book Club (1940)
`The Rights of Engineers’, Gollancz (1944)
`Industrial History in Wartime’
`Never on our Knees’ (1967) [Autobiography]
Article compiled from miscellaneous various sources, including The Times November 19, 1966