Simmonds Joe

Joe Simmonds

Joe Simmonds was a woodworker who moved to Southampton from Sunderland in 1936, searching for work. He started at the Scott Paine yard in Hythe working on motor torpedo boats but was moved into the Docks early in the war under the Essential Works Order, 1936, where he joined the Communist Party in 1941. He had previously been involved with the NUWM in the northeast.

Although Southampton docks closed to commercial traffic early in the war, hundreds of men were employed in there on ship repair and the conversion of liners into troop carriers. Among the people engaged in this activity was Joe Simmonds.

Indeed, at this point, the Party’s Docks Group in Southampton was made up almost entirely of ship repair workers and it seems to have been quite successful during the war years. It had a membership of between 40 and 50 people, including a large number of shop stewards. As a group, they met weekly and they organised well attended lunchtime meetings with national speakers. They also ran leaflet distributions, of which the campaign to open the Second Front was a prominent topic.

The popular support for the Soviet Union was reflected in the mass sale of Soviet War News in the Docks and they were able to sell various Party pamphlets “by the hundred.” This group differed from the pre-war stevedores’ cell in that they (the war time group) ran Marxist education classes with national tutors and also sold books in the docks.

Particularly active in the woodworkers union, the ASW, Joe recalled that, during the war and after, Party activists never really had to work hard at wage militancy because, there was so much work both in shipbuilding/repair and construction work in and around the town, that wages for woodworkers were always reasonably high, although in the occasional lay-offs Communists were usually the first to go.

During the war, and immediately after, Party members were heavily involved, in leading positions, on Southampton Trades Union Council. Joe was elected delegate to the 1946 Trades Union Councils’ Annual Conference but when he arrived was barred from participating because the TUC still proscribed CP members. The effectiveness of this proscription was challenged in that some Party members continued to be active on the Trades Union Council..

The Party was prominent among the rank and file leadership of the ASW. The local management committee of the ASW was, with the exception of one, exclusively made up of Communist Party members.  This influence was maintained right up the foundation of UCATT out of the ASW and other building unions.

Joe became a full time union official in 1960.

Source: Adrian Weir, `The Minority Movement and After: a South Hants Perspective’, Our History, New Series No 6, July 2007



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