McQuilkin Willie


Willie McQuilkin

William McQuilken was Paisley District Secretary of the AEU and a prominent local Communist in this Scottish town.

During the 1960s, he was involved in a Rolls Royce apprentice strike and long-running equal pay fights at the same plant and at Pressed Steel. In the same period, remarkably, McQuilkin also produced a number of short film documentaries about trade union and Communist Party work in Paisley.

Paisley’s Communist Party did not have to struggle to find somewhere to hold its monthly meeting, not whilst Willie was AEU Secretary – the AEU offices were wide open to any major force on the left.

McQuilkin was merely the most prominent – at least outside of Paisley– of the town’s Communists in the 1960s and into the 1970s. McQuilkin was highly active in the campaign to provide solidarity for the occupying workers of the Upper ClydeShipbuilders in the early 70s.

He was flanked by people like Jock Cunningham, a council tenants’ leader, and mill workers like Nancy Docherty and Helen Hill. Party activists such as John Gormley and John Redmond, along with YCLers Duncan Munro and John Close formed a close-knit Communist leadership in Paisley that was held in high esteem by local people. As a participant has recalled: 

“All were proud and doubtless Communists and … collectively, they provided the greatest period of public activity on working class issues, be it by open air or indoor meetings, attracting hundreds upon hundreds, or organising demonstrations against rent rises, the Paisley area has ever seen. And sitting there amid the often torrid debate, vuying to get in his tuppensworth was the bunnetted, Willie Gallacher.” 

For this was the town that the famous former Communist MP had retired to, and McQuilkin and his comrades were in Gallacher’s branch.

The veteran Communist’s 1965 funeral was held in Paisley, attended by the leading left-wing political figures of the day, and marked by a massive crowd lining the streets. 

Source: Arthur Milligan

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