Gibbons Charlie

Charlie Gibbons


Born Charles Leonard Gibbons on November 23rd 1888, he was a protégé of Noah Ablett, co-author of `The Miners’ Next Step’. Gibbons was a member of the Unofficial Reform Committee and the South Wales Socialist Society (one of the bodies that formed the British Communist Party). He was a Rhondda delegate to the Communist Party’s founding conference but this appears to be the limit of his involvement.


Having been committed to a home for destitute children in Chelmsford until he reached the age of sixteen, his working life began on a farm in Cardiganshire. Having gravitated to London, in the early summer of 1907, finding it impossible to survive on a succession of low-paid jobs, Gibbons decided to try to get into the coal industry; it took him several months to tramp to South Wales, supporting himself by working on farms along the way. On reaching Porth, he found employment as an underground labourer at the Bertie pit, one of the Lewis Merthyr group of collieries, where he quickly gained enough experience to pass himself off as a skilled hewer.


One evening in 1909, he happened to see a wall poster advertising a debate on the subject of working class education. At the end of the meeting, he was approached by Ablett, who had been impressed by his contributions to the discussion, and the next day he visited Ablett’s house in Porth. As a result, Gibbons was won over to the cause of independent workers’ education. Ablett recruited him to the local branch of the Plebs League, where he was introduced to Marxism.


Gibbons became a skilful lecturer; by 1913, he was able to teach four classes, in Sale, Hyde, Openshaw and Salford, which attracted 100 students. In the spring of 1914, Gibbons arrived back in the Rhondda, where he assisted in editing `The South Wales Worker’.


Due to his difficulty in finding work, Gibbons enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps, seeing service in Egypt and Palestine and reaching the rank of sergeant before being demobilised in February 1919. Union pressure secured Gibbons’ re-employment and he soon re-established his pre-war prominence, emerging as one of the leading members of the South Wales Socialist Society. Illness then forced Gibbons to leave the mines and he took advantage of a government training scheme to study economics, history and finance at Cardiff Technical College.


Gibbons then secured election as checkweigher at the Ferndale colliery. At a May Day rally in Ferndale Workmen’s Hall, Gibbons moved the resolution expressing solidarity with all national liberation movements and pledging support to the Workers’ Republic in Russia. Being dismissed as checkweigher after only a few months, Gibbons returned to the Rhondda, Gibbons and became involved in the unity campaign which led to the formation of the Communist Party. In June 1920 Charlie Gibbons and Arthur Horner replaced D A Davies and W F Hay as secretary and chairman of the SWSS. It was on behalf of the Society’s Ferndale branch that Gibbons attended the Communist Unity Convention, held in London during July 31-August 1, which established the British Communist Party as the official section of the Third International.


Gibbons’ contributions to the convention showed that his views had ossified as syndicalist as distinct from the Leninist conception of soviets as the basis of political power. Like many in the minority, Gibbons was not convinced over the need for parliamentary participation and Communist affiliation to the Labour Party.


Whatever the possible future course of Gibbons’ involvement in the Communist Party, he probably did not join the new  Ferndale branch of the Party, formed immediately after the convention, since he now left South Wales to lecture in industrial history for the Liverpool Labour College.


In the spring of 1921 financial problems forced the college to dispense with Gibbons’ services, and he returned to Wales. He then worked for several months as finance officer at the Ministry of Pensions at Mountain Ash, before being re-elected to his old position of checkweigher at Ferndale, probably at the beginning of 1922 but he resigned this position after less than a year.


Gibbons then worked briefly as assistant publicity agent for Cardiff Corporation; then he was employed by the Central Labour College as lecturer. He was recommended by the executive committee of the National Council of Labour Colleges (NCLC) Edinburgh District to replace their organiser, J.P.M. Millar, who had taken over as general secretary.


Gibbons’ appointment was not without incident, though, for a district committee meeting voted to accept the nomination of a Communist Party member, William Joss. Millar, who was intent on restricting the number of Communists working for the NCLC, attempted to overturn this decision, accusing an activist then a member of the Communist Party named Eva Harris of packing the meeting. He was unsuccessful, and the selection was eventually reduced to a straight choice between Joss and Gibbons. Miss Harris’s objections to Gibbons "on account of his being in the army" did not, however, prevent his selection by a substantial majority. He took up his post in August. Later Eva Harris sufficiently overcame her aversion to Gibbons to become his wife!


Within the NCLC, Gibbons acted as a loyal supporter of J.P.M. Millar. After 1926 Gibbons rejected his earlier syndicalist views, joining the Labour Party and working on occasion as an election agent. Gibbons was an organizer for the NCLC in Scotland until 1945, when he became an examiner in the NCLC’s postal course department, and held a role as a stern administrative controller of errant leftist NCLC organisers. He died in March 1967.


Source: Bob Pitt, Llafur (1989)


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