T J Potts was a leading trades unionist and Communist amongst draughtsmen in Derby’s Rolls Royce factories from, at least, the early days of the Second World War until the early 1960s.
He rose to become the Vice-Chair of the 1000-strong Derby branch of the Associationof Engineering & Shipbuilding Draughtsmen. (The AESD was later renamed DATA in the 1960, which became TASS in the 70s and 80s, which merged to form MSF in the late 80s, which merged around 2000 to form Amicus, which merged in 2007 to form Unite!) For a Communist in these decades, especially in a place such as Derby, this was no mean feat.
Potts was also an assiduous delegate from Derby AESD to the Derby Area Trades Union Council (DATUC) over these years and was President or Secretary of the DTC on a number of occasions. The role became highly contentious at times as local Labourites struggled to keep the local TUC in line as far as supporting local MPs and councillors was concerned.
In the wake of progressive mood ushered in by the war, in 1945 Derby Area Communist Party produced a “well written and attractively produced” pamphlet called “Derby – your town”, which concentrated upon the social and welfare reforms needed in the area. Thus, when the Labour controlled town council proposed to close its civic restaurants, this was heartily campaigned against by the Communists.
A resolution was moved at DATUC, which resoundingly condemned the notion of closures, by Jim Potts. This move provoked the response from Councillor S Harpur that there had been “Communist inspired agitation” against the closure of the restaurants, as if that made the proposal correct! Potts was rather put out by Harpur’s suggestions, pointing out that the resolution had come from one of the AESD draughtsmen’s’ branches and that he was the only Communist member of the branch’s executive.
His work as a white collar worker in days when office workers – especially highly qualified aeronautical draughtsmen – were still viewed as not being working class rather set him apart from most Communists at Rolls Royce. Before the cold war set in and Rolls Royce became ever more involved in military production there were still over thirty Communists in its local plants. The cold war also saw fascists feel strong enough to show their faces again, even so soon after the war. On one occasion around 1948, Jim Potts, turned up to work "with a black eye that he had received when he was on his soap box in Derby market place and Tommy Moran (a local fascist of national renown) threw a cabbage and hit him in the face". (See separate entry for Roy Buckley.)
Despite the best efforts of the TUC leadership to ban Communists from holding office in trades councils, Jim Potts was elected President of DATUC in 1946-7 and again in 1953-5 and 1964-6, as well as being DATUC Secretary from 1957-60.
When he was DATUC President in 1954, the character of the annual celebrations for May Day were being debated after a recommendation had been put for a Sunday evening rally at the Central Hall in Derby. One delegate had disagreed with the starting time, arguing that “not only the rich possessed T.V. sets and that working people were entitled to their entertainment”. Doug Coleman, another Communist (see separate entry) thought that such a view could be carried too far, “there might be Jane Russell in Derby on 3-D”. The implication being that bowing towards any flippancy might hinder the movement’s activities. Potts commented: “Doug is bit out of date. There is Marilyn Monroe now.” The local press carried the report under the headline: “May Day, T.V. and Marilyn Monroe.” In the event, the turnout was appalling, Sunday night TV having won the contest. Jim Potts said that of the May Day event that it was “one of the worst I have ever attended”.
Jim Potts’ first removal as President was in 1948, as the Cold War hit and hostility to Communists became frenetic. But it was never a shoo-in; Derby’s right wing had to work very had to keep the Communists out of office. A clear left-right struggle emerged over the early to mid-1950s and, increasingly, the left began to argue for some legitimacy by having the Vice-Presidency, or some other share in the leadership. Thus, Potts came back as President in 1953, when the incumbent right-wing Labour DATUC President became a city councillor and consequently stopped attending due to pressure of work. To replace him, Potts had to beat Cyril Bradley, a right-winger and senior full-time official of the TGWU who had not previously much bothered with DATUC. Bradley only won by the narrowest of margins – by 38 to 37 votes. But the right had Jim Potts off the platform once again by 1955.
Yet, later that year, the incumbent DATUC Secretary was elected an MP in Birmingham and the election for his successor was strongly fought; Jim Potts was only narrowly beaten by a Celia Butcher by 46 to 42 votes. But, during 1956, she married and moved away to Stroud. The post then went automatically to the Assistant Secretary, D Cassidy, who initially took over from Celia Butcher (by now Williams). But this automaticity was disputed and a vote was pressed for, which took place in October, when T J Potts narrowly beat Cassidy, 35 votes to 31 with 5 spoilt papers, giving him a few years’ service as Secretary from 1957-60. before he returned once again as President in 1964-6, when it seems he may have retired.