Jim (James) Garnett was, according to his nephew, “more or less” a founder member of the Communist Party. Born in 1894, he became a major figure during the Lancashire cotton strikes of the early 1930s, being the leader of the Hope Mill workers in Darwen, near Blackburn. A member of the Central Committee from 1930 to 1932, he was also a member of a delegation that visited Soviet Russia for twelve months, speaking all over the country on his return.
Before the strike, outside of major cities, the Communist Party was very weak in Lancashire – in some areas the Party was even non-existent. By the run-up to the 1932 national party congress, some voices were being raised that thought that local Communists had “entirely missed the boat so far as building an independent strike leadership” since and had become “immersed in relief work”. The Party, along with all members of the Comintern, had been working through a strategy of seeking to build revolutionary leadership and, almost unexpectedly, a relatively spontaneous phase of self-defensive militancy in Lancashire propelled the few Communists active in the mill towns into serious mass leadership positions.
Although, in the third week of the Burnley dispute it was possible to hold 14 cottage meetings of strikers and to “organise a requisition of trade union members with 370 names”, internal Party criticism of the
management of the dispute by the Party was being made that Jim Garnett had become “a glorified relief leader, instead of the leader of the independent strike committee”.
It does not seem as if this was a critique levelled at Garnett personally but rather a concern about how Party work, Minority Movement activity, rank and file self-organisation, and normal trade union work all intermeshed. It was not until the sixth week of the dispute that the practical dichotomy that Garnett faced every day was taken up by the Party leadership. Whilst it was not until the seventh week that any real attempt was made to set in motion a collective independent leadership, to be given by the Cotton Strikers' Solidarity Council [see text of leaflet below].
Thus, in practice, a difficult dispute such as this was confounded by uncertainty as to how to ensure that militant and rank and file activity fed into it. It was even said that the District Party was so smothering of the leadership of the dispute that “the few local comrades' were completely frozen out of the leadership, and it was not until a month or five weeks had elapsed that it was discovered that among the Party local members they, had an actual member of the Weavers' Association”. [This would be the Amalgamated Weavers' Association, which merged with the National Union of Textile and Allied Workers to form the Amalgamated Textile Workers' Union, which in turn finally merged with today’s GMB.]
In Haslingden, Communists such as Garnett, Danny Mead (a spinner), and Harry Fuller were in the thick of it at Syke mill. ''Knobsticks [scabs] came from Great Harwood and there were mass pickets at the factory gates. Police were out in force and pickets harassed by them were allowed escape routes through the houses of workers nearby. One day a picket was arrested, where upon a meeting at the 'Big Lamp’ sent a deputation to the police station followed by the crowd demanding the prisoner's release. After there had been threats of rushing the doors of the Police station the police hesitatingly allowed the prisoner to leave on a surety of £5. Another mass meeting was held, and from the 2000 people assembled a collection was taken to pay for any possible fine and for legal representation. The day of the trial saw a demonstration outside the court house and a 'bound over’ verdict was given. But that was not the end of the matter, for when the knobsticks approached the centre of the town in their two buses, several of the demonstrators lay down in the way of the buses and forced them to stop where upon missiles were thrown. The mayor came and read the riot Act and received a noisy hearing. News flashes on the local cinema screen announced that Syke Mill would not re-open on the Monday morning.”
Later, with Danny Mead, Garnett co-wrote 'Struggles of the Lancashire Cotton Workers' (119pp), lodged at Haslingden Branch Library Local Collection (Rossendale).
Jim Garnett (pictured during the First World War, left) died on December 13th 1980.
Sources: information from James Watson of Rossendale; Daily Worker November ? 1932
STRIKERS! STAND FIRM.
OUR STRIKE MUST BE WON.
WHY WE CAME ON STRIKE.
Is our magnificent strike to be betrayed by the Leaders? This is the burning question each one of us has to face. We came out on strike throughout Lancashire, after Earby and Burnley led the way, to win a new Collective Agreement that would ensure NO WAGE CUTS – NO MORE LOOMS – REINSTATEMENT VICTIMISED WEAVERS.
Our strike has aroused the admiration and support of the whole working-class.
It strongly influenced the ballot vote of the Spinners and Cardroom Workers for strike action against their threatened wage cuts.
The leaders of both Weavers and Spinners have deliberately prevented the united strike action of all weavers, tacklers, spinners and cardroom workers.
Meaning of Proposed Terms of Settlement.
The National Government has succeeded in getting the leaders to accept Terms of Settlement, which mean:-
1.-A Wage-Cut of 1s. 8 ½ d. in the pound. JUST THINK OF IT!
This heavy Wage Reduction at the very moment when the prices of Bread, Milk, Meat, Tinned Goods and Fares are going up.
2.-The setting up of so-called Conciliation Machinery that not only is to prevent strikes for three years, but under which the vital question of the More Looms System is to be considered.
IT MEANS THAT THE MORE LOOMS SYSTEM IS ACCEPTED ALREADY AND WILL BE OPERATED THROUGHOUT LANCASHIRE AND THOUSANDS OF WEAVERS WILL LOSE THEIR LOOMS.
3.-The reinstatement of all victimised weavers is not accomplished, and fine formulas will put no one back on their looms.
STRIKERS WE CAN DEFEAT THIS TREACHERY.
We must have the final word. All that has been done against us in the Midland Hotel, our standing firm now and refusing to return to work, can undo.
Let every striker who knows a Committeeman on the Weavers’ Council demand that they shall refuse to accept these infamous Terms, and insist upon a ballot vote of all strikers.
Demand immediate Union meetings to mandate the Committeemen on the Council to oppose the Terms.
Appoint delegations of strikers to visit the spinners and cardroom workers, and explain what is happening and how their wages are terribly menaced unless they come out on strike with us now.
Rally to the strikers’ Mass Demonstrations this week and support the call of the Cotton Strikers Solidarity Movement and refuse to go back to work until we have won our demands.
Elect your own Strike Committee and Leaders to take the fight into your own hands.
Remember, unless we win the new Collective Agreement and no wage-cuts, no more looms system, reinstatement of victimised weavers and freedom to strike for our demands, WHILE WE ARE ON THE STREETS – WE CAN NEVER WIN THEM WHEN THEY GET US BACK IN THE SHEDS.
STRIKERS WITH YOUR BACKS TO THE WALL STAND FIRM.
MASS ACTION & PICKETING BROUGHT ALL OUT.
IT WILL KEEP ALL OUT & BRING VICTORY & FREEDOM.
REFUSE TO ACCEPT THE TERMS – DEMAND A BALOT VOTE.
WEAVERS & SPINNERS TOGETHER – WE CAN WIN.
The Cotton Strikers Solidarity Council.