Born in 1896, Bert Edwards was beaten up during a transport workers' demonstration in
Over the stove in the Edwards’s' kitchen was this motto:
“A union man you cannot be, no matter how you try,
Unless you think in terms of WE and not in terms of I."
In the Army, Bert held Western Command's feather weight and lightweight boxing titles simultaneously. After the First World War, he got a job in the growing motor trade and became a member of the National
In the early 1920s, Bert was active in the National Unemployed Workers Movement, which he helped Wal Hannington get off the ground. It was the only body at that point fighting evictions for rent arrears. Bert recalled coming down to the Elephant and Castle one November morning and two women met him and took him to “where two little kids were under a table in Maywood Street, shivering”.
Discovering where the bailiff who had evicted the children and their mother, one of the women, he went to his nearby home to see if he could reason with the man somehow. There being no answer, Bert got in through a bedroom window. Ignoring the woman in bed he went in to the house and found the bailiff and his son, both holding big sticks. But the element of surprise and the threat that the NUWM would come round, saw the evicted family put back. In fact, the NUWM was so strong in Southwark that bailiffs would ask them if they were to defend a particular eviction – and if they were they wouldn't come themselves.
Southwark NUWM would usually barricade up the door, and feed the defenders of the home via a bucket and rope. Although the police often tried to trouble landlords became wary of combative engagements that might damage their property and cost them more in the long run.
The NUWM would also raid factories which were doing overtime.
The 30-year old Bert was noted for being among the most energetic local leaders of Councils of Action in Southwark, where he was President in 1926. The local Trades Council set up this Council of Action. Like the Council of Action, Southwark Trades Council was a very united council. There were two former members of the British Socialist Party on it, who had been Labour Borough Councillors, and when the Communist Party was set up these two even kept their posts for many years.
The Communist Party had a hall in
Bert worked for Gordon England Ltd, a coach building firm in Putney. (E C Gordon
Incidentally, two of Bert’s brothers were co-driving runners for the TUC from Liverpool to London during the strike; one of them, Bob Edwards, later became General Secretary of the chemical workers union.
The Trades Council offices in Central Southwark Labour Party rooms at
Tommy Strudwick lived in Swan Street, backing onto a factory, and in his front room he had a typewriter and duplicator all set up to produce a strike news-sheet from the Wednesday, the third day of the strike. He had disguised it in a wall recess, with wallpaper pasted onto a hard back so the work area and machines could be covered up. Bert had to pass the house on his way to the Trades Council and would pick up the papers. The police must have followed him, as it didn’t take long before Tommy house was raided. In the each the police accidentally knocked the paper cover that was disguising the duplicator and found the seditious makings. He was arrested and charged with incitement to disaffection and he received two months hard labour. But three editions of the bulletin were produced before his arrest.
Bert became vehicle builder at a factory on the Park Royal estate during the 1930s. It is believed that he was still a member of the Communist Party during these years, although it is currently unclear when Bert formally left the Communist Party, mainly because he clearly had no dispute over any of its policies or activities. It may possibly be in the late 1940s, when he married and, it is widely said (Raf Samuel put it in print), only after intense pressure from his wife to do so. But he remained very close to the Party, so much so that it sometimes prompted speculation as to whether he was now a secret member. His wife, Fiona Anne Connolly Edwards (1907-1976), was the youngest daughter of James Connolly, the infamous Irish martyr; it is assumed that her objection to her (second) husband’s membership of the Communist Party was based on a view of her father’s early position regarding the ILP and his final act of founding a Labour Party in Ireland. She is buried in Dean’s
At any rate, Bert was a Labour councillor in
Bert retired at the age of 65 from the position as
He served on the executive committee of the Labour Research Department (LRD) from 1967 to 1982 and the last meeting he attended was in November 1982. It is likely that he died shortly after this. In his four decades of service to the labour movement, possibly half of that had been as an open Communist
Sources: “The 1926 General Strike in Southwark”; “Solidarity in Southwark” by
Daily Worker 11th March 1961(courtesy MW); Labour Research Department