Scanlon Hugh

Hugh Scanlon


Hugh Parr Scanlon was born on 26th October 1913 in Melbourne, Australia, to parents who had emigrated from Britain. His mother brought him to Britain at the age of two after she was widowed. His grandparents were members of both the Labour Party and the Co-op and they involved him in weekend educational schools from the age of 16. At the age of 11, he became an apprentice instrument maker at an engineering firm in Salford.

He joined his union, the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU), there and went on to work at the Metropolitan-Vickers engineering plant at Trafford Park.  At the age of 23, Scanlon became a shop steward and joined the Communist Party, which had an enormous branch at the Metro-Vick, as it was familiarly called. He later attained the position of convener for the plant. Scanlon once said that: “To be a Marxist (and a union official means) that you see the trade union movement as a means to an end, not an end in itself." During the Spanish Civil War, he was one of those who gave his labour free outside of work time to convert old lorries into ambulances. In 1945, he stood for election as a Communist candidate in Stretford.


He was elected AEU divisional organiser in 1947 but left the Party in 1954, seemingly with few differences at stake. He continued to operate within the Communist-led leadership of Manchester AEU. In 1963, he was elected to the union's executive council. Then, in 1968, he was successful as a broad left candidate for the AEU Presidency, then the unqualified leadership position of the union, which would become the AUEW in the early 1970s.


With TGWU leader, Jack Jones, he was widely known as being major obstacles to right-wing ideas to restrict the power of the unions. Labour prime minister Harold Wilson, once famously told him to "get your tanks off my lawn".


When Labour returned to office in 1974, Scanlon and Jones acted as go-betweens for Labour, communicating between Labour's leadership and the unions. They were the prime movers within the union movement of the Social Contract which introduced strict wage controls and limits on strike action.  This role led to Scanlon (and Jones also) being targeted by the British security forces from 1966 to 1977, when Scanlon retired.


In 1975, he was refused security clearance to join the then state-owned British Gas Board, although this was later relented upon.  Two years later, he was prevented from becoming chairman of British Shipbuilders because MI5 advised that he should not see documents marked "confidential" or above.  Even so, to great surprise, he accepted appointment to the House of Lords in 1979, taking the title Baron Scanlon, of Davyhulme in the County of Greater Manchester.  Baron Scanlon died on 27th January 2004, aged 90.


Sources include: Guardian 28th January 2004

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