30 April 2009
One of Britain's most powerful trade unionists and a Camberwell resident of more than 50 years passed away last week.
Jack Jones, who also fought the fascists in the Spanish civil war, led the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU) during the 1970s and has been described as a "giant of the labour movement."
The 96-year-old, who lived at Ruskin Park House for the latter part of his life, died peacefully in a care home in Peckham last Tuesday evening. Born James Larkin Jones, Jack was the son of a Liverpool docker and, after studying as an engineering apprentice, he became a docker himself.
It was around this time that his career in politics began - even earlier than the famously precocious William Hague's - as he became a Labour Party ward secretary at the tender age of fifteen.
He would soon become the youngest member of Liverpool City Council at the age of just 23.
A year later he began recruiting British men for, and fought with, the International Brigades in the Spanish civil war. But at the battle of Ebro in 1938 he was wounded in the right shoulder and sent home.
His son Jack, now 69-years-old and living in Plymouth, was born the following year.
He told the 'News' his dad had played his part in a momentous century.
He said: "It's difficult to imagine that young people now would put their life on the line for another country.
"We are obviously very sad that he's dead, but he was 96-years-old. We were relatively glad that he didn't have any pain. He went to sleep and didn't wake up again.
"He was 96 when he died. He had a hell of a life."
Jack added: "He never lost that common touch. He was always very concerned about the common man. I never thought he went to work. He just went to meetings all the time, but that was his work.
"There're an awful lot of people who have an awful lot to be grateful to him for," he said.
When he got back from Spain Jack then dedicated the rest of his working life to the unions, starting as a district organiser for the TGWU in Coventry - working to improve the working conditions for car factory staff.
He rose up the ranks from here, becoming the Midland regional secretary of the TGWU in 1955, and was elected to Labour's policy-forming National Executive in 1964.
But it was in 1969 that Jack reached the upper echelons of the union, and became most influential. He was given the top union job in the country, general secretary of the TGWU, which is still the biggest in the UK.
Tony Woodley, now the joint general secretary of Unite and general secretary of T&G section, sent his condolences to Jack's two sons, Michael and Jack.
He said: "Jack's greatness as a leader rested above all on his belief in the instincts and outlook of the membership. He was always a partisan of lay democracy, of the union being run by the men and women who joined it, and with authority being devolved to the districts and the workplaces.
"For thousands of us still active in the movement, Jack was a friend and a mentor - always ready to offer wise counsel when it was sought, right down to the last months of his life. Always sharp in his understanding of our problems, modest in his lifestyle, uninterested in any honour beyond serving the movement, he embodied everything a trade unionist should be."
Jack served in this post until he retired in 1978, when over 2,500 guests went to his leaving party at the Festival Hall. He was given a £10,000 leaving present, which he promptly gave to a pensioners' pressure group.
Long after he retired, Jack was still fighting for the rights of pensioners and was very politically active.
The welfare of the elderly was an issue long close to his heart. He set up the National Pensions Convention in 1979 and was involved with the Southwark Pensioners' Forum and the Southwark Pensioners' Action Group until he died.
In 1992 - at the age of 79 - he was one of Tessa Jowell's official nominees for her parliamentary candidacy for the Labour Party.
The MP for West Norwood and Dulwich said: "Jack Jones was a political giant, whom I was always proud to have as both a constituent and a friend.
"I always looked forward to visiting him and, until her death, his wife Evelyn, at Ruskin Park House. I enjoyed his 95th birthday celebration last year and as recently as last month I met him enjoying a quiet lunch at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Even last week I had a card from him lobbying against Trident.
"I will remember him for many things, particularly his friendship and support, but also his unremitting campaigning to end the poverty faced by so many older people. It is in great part thanks to Jack that older people now have warmer homes, more money to live on and a better quality of life."
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