History CP early 50s early 60s

The thirteen years of Tory rule, from 1951 to 1964, had seen wages held back while prices, rents and profits soared rocketed and social services were cut. And over it all hung the ever-present menace of nuclear war. The fight for peace and for colonial liberation was a foremost task of the Communist Party. Its consistent campaigning against all nuclear weapons and for the closure of US bases in Britain helped to strengthen the peace movement and to develop the CND into a mass movement.  Communists fought on every front of struggle for peace, national independence and alternative policies to capitalist crisis.

Young men were compelled to do their time in National Service – with 6,000 being called up every fortnight. The Communist Party began the decade firmly wedded to the idea of a short-term demand for the period of service to be reduced to a single year. This was clearly allied to an overall policy demand for a major reduction in so-called `defence’ expenditure and the policy was designed to rebut criticisms that Communists would leave Britain completely defenceless. Moreover, there was as yet still no professional army and many felt that a long-term strategy for social change would be better supported by a conscript army that by a high-trained force, divided and separated from the working class. Many Communists served their time in National Service, although many were also cast to one side and segregated from `sensitive’ duties. Increasingly, however, the YCL reflected the mood amongst young people themselves and called for a complete abolition of the hated National Service.

In February 1958 the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was founded, and at Easter 1958 5,000 marched to Aldermaston. The Campaign’s politics and sponsors were an eclectic mix of Christians, pacifists, liberal academics and Labour lefts but it voiced a very real popular concern about the possibility of nuclear war. At Easter 1960 and 1961 some 100,000 people marched in support of CND – many students and middle-class elements, but with a good representation of trade union delegations and ordinary workers.

In October 1960 the Labour Party Conference, in defiance of Gaitskell and the Parliamentary leadership, voted for a policy of unilateral disarmament. This reflected the growth of the biggest mass movement Britain had seen since the 1930s, which in many ways emerged outside the framework of traditional labour movement organisations. The Party mobilised seriously for the 1960 CND Easter March. The Party’s previous focus on international agreement now gave rise to concern existed that the collapse of the Summit Conference approach now made it even harder to rely on a consensus for peace. [MTD May 1959]

Then the 1960 conference of the Labour Party voted for a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament, being bolstered by a sudden leftwards shift in the leadership of the T&G, with the arrival of Frank Cousins as General Secretary. Gaitskell made this snub an issue of his leadership and was able to reverse the policy the following year. But the election of Cousins was to have major repercussions for the balance of forces between the left and the right in the labour movement. It was the Communists’ campaigning in the factories and the labour movement which helped the sensational victory at the 1960 Labour Party conference for unilateralism and in defence of Clause Four.

In the early sixties the United States Navy set up a nuclear base in Holy Loch, near Dunoon, Scotland. This was to house the Polaris missile, a submarine-launched, two-stage ballistic missile, designed to be used as part of the US Navy’s contribution to the United States’ arsenal of nuclear weapons. The move led to many demonstrations in the area. In March 1961 the first US nuclear submarine, the Polaris, arrived at Holy Loch. Local Dumbartonshire council Communist councillor Duncan McGowan opposed the authority’s decision to appoint a representative to a liaison committee with the Polaris base. [World News March 11th 1961] By September, 15,000 people would take part in a banned protest.


As we have seen, Communist could easily be victimised by employers and rarely gained support from their union, although the often retained the loyalty of ordinary workers. Despite NUAW organiser Arthur Jordan, who we met in the last chapter, doubling the union’s membership in Dorset, he was sacked by the union in December 1962 mainly due to his Communist Party activities and allegiance. Arthur Jordan was ‘sacked on the spot.’ by the Union E.C. only a day or two before Christmas. The Press reported the General Secretary, Harold Collison, as saying he had been dismissed “for actions- where he had not conformed to Union Policy.” Although he had added: “Mr. Jordan was a good organiser.”

The Dorset County Committee passed, unanimously, a resolution calling for Jordan’s reinstatement, and sent a deputation to the EC to argue its case. Jordan’s own statement to the press [Country Standard winter 1963 edition] revealed that the actions complained of were:—

1) Writing  an  article  in  the  Dorset N.U.A.W. Bulletin  demanding higher pay for farm workers and contrasting their  pay  with  that  of  the  police  and   mentioning the latter’s method of dealing with ban-the-bomb  demonstrators.
2) Accepting an invitation to speak to Salisbury Trades Council before obtaining the permission of the General Secretary,  although no date had been fixed  and he had made it clear to the T.C. secretary on the phone that he should have to have Head Office permission.
3) Writing an article (albeit in a strictly personal capacity) about  British agriculture  in ” Land  and  Labour,”   a  journal  of  the  World  Federation  of Trade Unions.
4) Reporting  in  the  Dorset  Bulletin  and  in the “Land and Labour ” article that a majority  of  both farm  workers  and farmers are expressing opposition to the Common Market.
5) Reporting   (correctly) in   the   article   that   large  numbers  of resolutions  were  calling  for  a more determined attitude by the Executive  Committee to secure  a  £10  wage for  farm  workers.
6) Inviting a member of the Union from another district to participate in a television programme.  On this issue, the EC accepted his explanation.

This was not the first time that the EC had interviewed Jordan about similar matters, but he categorically denied the General Secretary’s statement reported in the Press to the effect that he had not conformed to union policy. He remained understandably bitter about this episode for the rest of his life, but often reflected upon the compensation he had secured on behalf of his members. Jordan moved to London, where he initially secured a post with BALPA, the airline pilots union, before then working for Collett’s publishers, in its import department concerned with the Eastern European trade.


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