Dingley Tom

Tom Dingley

Dingley was a leader of Coventry Socialist Labour Party (SLP) before the formation of the Communist Party, which he joined from the start in 1920. He had syndicalist leanings and was a confidante of William Paul and Arthur McManus (see separate entries).

Dingley had also been secretary of the local branch of the Industrial Workers of the World but now became the driving force behind the formation of the Coventry Shop Stewards and Workers Committee (CSSWC). Unlike its namesake on the Clyde, this had made only a small impression until early 1917, when Dingley established a committee at his own workplace, the Hotchkiss munitions works.

He wrote a 14-page pamphlet, “The shop stewards and workers’ committee movement” for the CSSWC.

During 1917, a major dispute involving 50,000 workers broke out in the city. Although this was settled on good terms for the workers, Dingley, who was a shop steward at the Hotchkiss Works – which was at the centre of the storm – was sacked in March 1918.

He worked for a time at what were Austin’s early Longbridge auto works until he was sacked there also for leading a strike.

He worked as a national organiser for the Shop Stewards’ Movement during 1918-19 and later went to work with Wal Hannington (see separate entry) at the Slough Motor Depot, where he became Works Convenor and led a stay-in strike.  See: http://ourhistory-hayes.blogspot.com/2009/10/wal-hannington-and-slough-soviet-1920.html

He worked with Hannington on the 1920s’ national unemployed marches.

He led the Coventry Unemployed Workers Committee (CUWC) from September 1920, along with several other Communists. Leadership of the CUWC was a great success for the newly formed Coventry branch of the Communist Party. The week before the Committee was set up, The Communist, the weekly paper of the Party, reported large meetings in the city. 

The CUWC’s first event was addressed by Tom Dingley, when he led a group of two thousand workers to the Armstrong-Siddeley works at Parkside. There, the unemployed went into the firm’s precinct and a meeting was held of workers and workless.

The CUWC’s Committee was elected at a mass meeting attended by about 1,200. Each member of the Committee was a delegate, subject to immediate recall, just like shop stewards. The Committee had nine elected members and three co—opted from the local branch of the National Union of Ex—Servicemen. Although only a minority of the Committee initially appear to have been Communists, it was very much influenced by the experience of the Soviets.

This was a major coup for the small branch of the Communist Party, which was also busy with frequent open-air meetings as well as rallies at the Baths Assembly Hall.  Factory gate meetings were held to encourage workers to resist the use of overtime, so as to make work for others. 

There were demonstrations at the Board of Guardians and `town meetings’ convened – relics of feudal Coventry, rediscovered by the Communists who could force the Mayor to call a meeting if they could collect 200 signatures. One was held on October 4th 1920 and the Mayor had to preside while virtually every active member of the Communist Party in the area spoke to various resolutions.

At the Town’s meeting, Dingley proposed the establishment of a Workers Council, while the main resolution called for the unemployed to take over disused factories under workers’ control to produce goods ordered by a Russian Trade Delegation that was to be invited to visit the city. Nothing came of this, with the Mayor simply saying he would pass it on to the proper authorities, whoever they were! A year later another Town Meeting set up a Coventry Russian Famine Relief Committee.

Dingley served a couple of short terms in prison in the 1920s, and was, in consequence, effectively barred from a job for the whole of the inter-war period.

In the municipal elections of 1921, Labour decided not to contest two wards, and Dingley stood as an unofficial Labour candidate, along with another CPer named Graham. Although many Labour activists were prepared to vote for them, the Midland Daily Telegraph consistently referred to them as Communists, and this was thought to have had an effect on the number of votes they received.

Even so, in 1922, Dingley stood as a straightforward Communist candidate in Coventry’s Stoke ward, where he polled a pretty respectable 497 votes.

By the time the 1926 General Strike hit, Dingley, who was one of the oldest Communists in Coventry by this time, suffered a virtual physical and mental breakdown after the extreme exertions of the previous six years and history hears no more of him.

Source:  “Engineering Workers and the Rise of Labour in Coventry 1914-1939”, F W Carr, University of Warwick Thesis, September 1978.