Born in 1879, Jack (John) Trotter was a foundation and life-long member of the Communist Party. He was jailed in the wake of the general strike at the age of 47, being sentenced to three months' hard labour on 25th May 1926 for making a speech in the Bull Ring the previous Sunday that was deemed “likely to cause disaffection” in that he "condemned the Special Constabulary in violent terms and declared the Army none too reliable". [Western Daily Press 26th May 1926]
In 1930, a period during which the Birmingham police were especially harsh on any open manifestation of Communist activity, Trotter was bound over to be of good behaviour for a year in one surety of £25 and two sureties of £10 each. This meant that any re-occurence of what the court deemed to be bad behaviour would cost him maybe 20 weeks’ pay, or equivalent to somewhere in the order of ten thousand pounds today.
He had been charged under an act passed by King Edward III (reigned 1327–1377) with being a disturber of the peace likely to persevere with such conduct. Trotter has made speeches in Hockley and at the Bull Ring against the imprisonment of Arthur Swain (see separate entry). He had complained at Detective Walters taking notes of what he was saying, and doing the same in Swain’s case.
In his own defence, Trotter accused the police of having “imaginative minds” in recording his “insulting”, “dangerous and improper”, even “provocative language” and thought it odd that the only witnesses who were disturbed by his speeches were the police! The point of issue was supposed to be whether anything he had said might incite the crowd to attack the plain clothed detective.
A building worker by trade, Trotter was active in the Transport & General Workers’ Union Building Trades Group. During the 1940s, possibly from the mid-1930s, he was a member of the union’s No 5 Area (Midlands) Committee. It is likely that he was a member of the Trade Group’s National Committee as well for some of the period.
At the start of the Second World War, like all Communists, many Labour lefts and some peace campaigners, he was a vigorous supporter of the People’s Vigilance Committee, which was fiercely critical of the phony war and war profiteering. When this was discussed at the Area Committee, only days after the convention, the view was expressed there that the PVC “was a subversive movement of the Communist Party and great concern was expressed at the rapid progress it had made”. [TGWU Area 5 – Area Committee minutes January 16th 1941]
Trotter had signed a supporting document for the Convention and, in consequence, a recommendation was put to the Area Committee that he be, in effect, expelled from the committee for using his name in connection with the PVC. However, this threat was withdrawn after some debate and the committee decided that it would not follow the procedure for expulsion, due to the fact that Trotter, deciding to exercise discretion on this occasion, undertook not to use his name again in this way.
Jack Trotter will have been described as a TGWU Area 5 Regional Committee member in the PVC publicity material. The use of the epithet `in personal capacity’, which would be added to the official trade union identify of Communists when the issue or policy was not likely to be endorsed by official Labour, began in this period.
During the Cold War such antipathy would grow, especially in the TGWU. Despite the hysteria and Ernie Bevin’s replacement as General Secretary, Arthur Deakin, being fiorecely anti-Communist and a vindictive personality to boot, in 1948 eight Communist Party members won seats on the TGWU General Executive Council, up by four from two years previously and Jack Trotter was one of these. He won the support of the Building Workers National Trade Group Committee for this seat but, refusing to give up his Communist Party membership when the bans on Communists holding office were introduced in the union, he was ejected from his seat from 1950.
Trotter died in Birmingham in mid-1956.