Jimmy Barnes was born in Carlisle, the son of working-class Communist Party members. (One of his sisters is the journalist and former Communist, Beatrix Campbell.) His education was marked by dyslexia, and his mother fiercely resisted proposals to send him to a special school. Apprenticed as an engineer in Carlisle in 1966, he worked for London Underground, and in Sunderland for the National Coal Board. From 1977 he studied philosophy and politics at Sunderland Polytechnic. From his youth he was active in the Young Communist League and stayed a member of the Communist Party until the mid-1980s. Where his politics were after that seemed elusive, other than in context. But he was a frequent and close observer of events at TUC annual conference and certain union conferences.
His 1981 marriage to Maggie Mound ended in separation and for many years his financial position was precarious, often relieved by benefits. Arising from his chequered activities, he was similtaneously a member of Amicus, GPMU and NUJ. Indeed, in 2000 he helped revive the NUJ branch in Carlisle, having moved back there to be with his elderly mother. For a few years he was a delegate to NUJ conferences. His fortunes appeared to have now much improved.
In his later years he devoted his energies mainly to Trade Union Review. The latter ended up as his personal publication, as its eccentric spelling, style and virtual lack of proof reading – all no doubt due to his dyslexia – testified. The publication attracted intense hostility, regular retractions and the occasional lawyer’s letter and libel case. Virtually the `Private Eye’ of the trade union movement, without the humour, although a kind of grim sarcasm ran through most stories, Trade Union Review specialised in scandalous disclosure, gossip and rumour, quite often with a tenuous hold on actuality. It was almost single-handedly written by Jimmy, under a wide range of pseudonyms, most of which were as he delighted in revealing were “dead relatives”.
The first and most obvious target for his attention was Roger Lyons, General Secretary of MSF, a man already much lampooned by others. But the dominating theme for a long time was the Transport & General Workers Union. This was almost oddly so, since Trade Union Review began to appeared to hold most favoured status amongst the leadership of the T&G during the final years of the General Secretary, Bill Morris, now Lord Morris. Large numbers of the journal appeared in some of the union’s offices and were sent free to individuals. Interestingly, despite claims that TUR existed to expose the improper actions of the high and powerful, few concerns appeared in the journal about the union’s official apparatus but many of the leadership’s more vocal critics found their every personal action scrutinised. Indeed, for much of the period 2000 to 2003, Trade Union Review appeared obsessed with the internal machinations of the T&G and increasingly partisan about its objectives. It’s most disgraceful moment came with an allegation – heavily withdrawn later – that the employers in the car industry had subsidised the future plans for internal election campaigns by a left-wing contender to replace Morris.
For many years, Jimmy Barnes had also held the franchise for Trade Union CND. This existed, ostensibly, to help reconcile the support for the nuclear industry per se, of unions with membership in the industry, with unilateral nuclear disarmament. But the body had hardly functioned for years. As major changes could be seen to be en route in the T&G, with the election of Tony Woodley as Deputy General Secretary in 2002 and General Secretary in 2003, Barnes became more focused on TUCND, and a publication rather similar in layout and style to Trade Union Review appeared. Trade Union Review simply faded. Given the sudden reappearance of TUCND, policy tensions may well have been likely within CND, which had plans for a new approach to trade union affiliations, when the strangest of things occurred.
Bizarrely, for someone celebrated in the press as a Communist, although he had certainly not held a card for some two decades, Barnes went heavily public towards the end of 2003, with claims – carried by most newspapers – that he had come to a sudden realisation that CND and the Stop the War Coalition had been taken over by Trotskyists and the Communist Party. The forthcoming re-election of the Chair of CND, Kate Hudson, a Communist Party member, at CND’s AGM was the main target of Barnes’ outburst. He claimed to be motivated by a desire to defend the historic aims of the peace movement. However, Hudson’s easy victory and a subsequent calm resolution of some internal dynamics saw CND on a steady course, which abhorred this crude approach, and Barnes’ interest faded.
Then, out of the blue and rather oddly for a man who had lived on benefits for a very long time, in 2005, he bought the Queen’s pub in Church, near Accrington, Lancashire. It had both wet and dry rot and, according to his obituaries, he met the substantial financial consequences by working locally as a maintenance engineer in Accrington. The pub seemingly quickly made Jimmy Barnes “financially stable” and he now set up B&D Publishing, which reprinted of Friedrich Schlotterbeck’s Left Book Club title `The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars’ (1947), which was on the subject of German workers’ resistance to the Nazis. Even more obscurely, Barnes also republished John Milton’s tract on freedom of expression, `Areopagitica’. Plans for new publishing projects came to naught, however, since Jimmy Barnes died suddenly of an aeurysim, aged 57, on December 30th 2007.
Sources: GS personal knowledge plus information from Granville Williams’ pieces in the Guardian, February 12th 2008 and Free Press 12th February 2008