Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Arthur Attwood 1913–2008

Incorruptable, he couldn’t be broken’

by Eric Trevett

BY ANY STANDARDS, Arthur was a remarkable man. Up to his 80s he was still doing his long distance walking. “You can get 20 miles under your belt before breakfast”, he said, adding: “You see, I do prepare for these marches. I oil my boots.” All this in spite of having heart problems that required surgery.
Arthur left school at the age of 14. He became a skilled electrician by virtue of the fact that he had a variety of jobs requiring that skill. He also studied at the local technical school for his qualifications, after working hours. variety
Arthur’s working life saw him serving the working class in a wide variety of capacities. He was often a shop steward, became a full time trade union official and was an effective political activist. Arthur joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in 1941. He served on the CPGB’s Surrey District Committee for a number of years before joining the New Communist Party in 1979.
Arthur saw no contradiction in being an active trade unionist and a communist. He knew that the struggles for better conditions in the trade unions could not in themselves end the exploitation of the working class. He became a communist in order to supplement those struggles with the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of working class state power.
In an illustrious career, his courage, dedication, tenacity and adherence to his political principles earned him the respect and confidence of his fellow workers.
Like thousands of others in the British labour movement, his principles were never discarded for the lure of a comfortable career. Incidentally he never considered the employers to be in any way the “partners” of the working class and trade unions. He saw them as being adversaries whose profits were obtained form the exploitation of the workers he represented.
Employers who pleaded poverty when faced with workers’ wage claims left Arthur quite cold. He knew since the days of the legislation ending child labour, the employers had always claimed they couldn’t afford to meet the workers’ demands. They always continued to make huge profits.
In his turbulent working life, some events stand out in the Arthur Attwood story. The first concerned his role in the struggle of the RAF personnel stationed in India to get demobbed and returned to Civvy Street.


The second concerned the difficulties following the “ballot rigging” affair in the Electrical Trade Union, which led to the defeat of the communist leadership of the union by a right-wing faction dominated by communist turn-coats. To consolidate their victory, the rules of the ETU were then changed, banning CP members from holding office. Any ETU official who was a member of the CPGB was forced to resign from office or renounce their party membership. Some, to their eternal shame, sold-out. Arthur was the only one who didn’t. He took the principled stand and resigned from office to return to his trade as an electrician.
After the ending of the Second World War, the British ruling class were faced with a problem in India; the Indian people were involved in the struggle to end colonialism.
The British administration thought it would be a good idea to defer the demobilisation of the RAF personnel in an effort to restrain the Indian masses. The great and the good of British imperialism overlooked a number of facts as well as underestimating the strength of the anti-colonial movement itself. Large contingents of RAF personnel in India were conscripts. A considerable number of them had trade union and political experience. They were motivated and had the ability to organise and develop an effective campaign in spite of military discipline and the punishments that could arise from mutiny.
There was also in the ranks of the RAF substantial sympathy and support for the people of India in their struggle against colonial oppression. There were also grounds for other complaints including bad food.
The campaign for demob started at the Drigh Road maintenance depot where Arthur Attwood was stationed. There a committee was formed and steps decided on by a mass meeting held in darkness so that speakers could not be identified. These tactics initiated from Drigh Road were repeated in a rolling campaign that enveloped most if not all the RAF bases in India.
Following these developments Arthur Attwood was charged with being one of the ring leaders and was held in solitary confinement.
But he never lost faith in the RAF personnel and the working class he was representing. Incorruptible, he couldn’t be broken. He was buoyed up by the efforts of his wife and family, his comrades — including labour movement activists well known figures like the lawyer and socialist D N Pritt — and thousands of servicemen’s well wishes, most of whom he’d never met.
It was the wholehearted involvement of the Labour and trade union movements whose pressure was mainly instrumental in getting the Labour government to retreat from its vicious persecution of air force personnel. On 3rd July 1946 the Government announced that all charges of incitement to mutiny in connection with the January events had been dropped.
His part in the RAF mutiny was covered in The Days of the Good Soldiers by Richard Kisch and Mutiny in the RAF by David Duncan and it was the subject of a Channel 4 documentary in 1996 that was made with Arthur’s assistance.
In relation to the events following the banning of communists in the ETU George Seinfield, Daily Worker industrial correspondent, had this to say about Arthur Attwood: “Throughout the controversy around the rule, he made clear to the executive council and area committee, to branches, shop stewards and rank-and-file members, that he would not desert the party in which he had been active for many years. Refusing therefore to comply with the rule, he at once went to the labour exchange looking for work as an electrician. Arthur Attwood’s firm stand on principle ran true to character.”
Arthur remained true to his principles to his last breath. He will never be forgotten.