Jack Jones (trade unionist)

James Larkin Jones CH MBE (29 March 1913 – 21 April 2009), known as Jack Jones, was a British trade union leader and General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union.

Jack Jones

Jones in 1973
James Larkin Jones

(1913-03-29)29 March 1913
Garston, Liverpool, Lancashire, England
Died21 April 2009(2009-04-21) (aged 96)
Peckham, London, England
OccupationUnion leader
Known forformer general secretary, Transport and General Workers' Union
Military Service
Allegiance Spanish Republic
Service/branch International Brigades
UnitThe "Abraham Lincoln" XV International Brigade
Battles/warsSpanish Civil War

Early life

Jones was born in Garston, Liverpool, Lancashire. He was named after the Liverpool-born Irish trade unionist James Larkin. He left school at 14 and worked as an engineering apprentice. After the Wall Street Crash, Jones lost his job, eventually finding employment with a firm of signmakers and painters. He then joined his father as a Liverpool docker.

Jack Jones was converted to socialism by reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell, and he later explained how the book "was passed from hand to hand among people in the Labour movement and had a remarkable effect on our thinking".[1] He became a member of the Transport and General Workers Union, and was elected shop steward, then a delegate on the National Docks Group Committee.[2]

Spanish Civil War

Strongly opposed to the British Union of Fascists and their leader Oswald Mosley, Jones organised protest-meetings against the fascists in Liverpool, and was beaten up by a group of Blackshirts armed with knuckle-dusters.[3][1] A member of the Territorial Army since 1934 (he was promoted to bombardier in the Royal Artillery), in 1936 at the start of the Spanish Civil War, Jones joined and served with the British Battalion of the XV International Brigade as the political commissar of the Major Attlee Company,[4] and was seriously wounded at the Battle of the Ebro in 1938.[1]

Second World War

On his return to Britain, Jones became a full-time official of the TGWU in Coventry. Jones played a key role in organising the workforce of the West Midlands motor industry in the postwar period as Regional Secretary of the TGWU. He was a strong supporter of the shop steward movement aimed at promoting trade union and industrial democracy. He was an early supporter of the Institute for Workers' Control. While Assistant General Secretary of the union and a member of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, he chaired the Labour Party policy group on Industrial Democracy.

General Secretary of the Union

Jones was elected General Secretary of the TGWU in 1968. Together with Hugh Scanlon, President of the Amalgamated Engineering Union he led the left-wing trade union opposition (associated with Broad Left[5]) to the 1966–70 Labour Government's prices and incomes policy, and the efforts of that government to introduce legislation that would have enforced a 28-day cooling off period before strike action could be taken.[5]

In 1969 Home Secretary James Callaghan requested action that would hinder Jones' career, which was raised in cabinet, and further discussed with Secretary of State for Employment Barbara Castle. A plan for detrimental leaks to the media was placed in the Foreign Office propaganda Information Research Department, and its head prepared a briefing paper. However information about how this was effected has not been released under the thirty-year rule under a section of the Public Records Act permitting national security exemptions.[6]

While general secretary, he was chief economic spokesman for the Trades Union Congress and one of the authors of the Social Contract. Jones was also instrumental in the creation of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) in 1975,[2] and was a member of the National Economic Development Council from 1969 to 1978. Jones campaigned for Britain to leave the EEC in the 1975 referendum.[7]

In January 1977 a Gallup opinion poll found that 54% of people believed that Jones was the most powerful person in Britain, ahead of the Prime Minister,[8] and is held responsible by some in the Labour Party for being "the union leader that created the Winter of Discontent and 18 years of Tory rule",[9] despite the fact that he had retired from the leadership of the TGWU in 1978, the year before the Winter of Discontent.

According to KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky, Jones provided intelligence to the Soviet Union in return for money.[10] This was denied by Jones, who described the allegations as a "slur and an outrage".[11][6] It was later claimed that he had in fact been working for British intelligence, informing MI5 when Russians approached him.[12] In the authorised history of MI5 The Defence of the Realm, the author Christopher Andrew, using Gordievsky as his source, claimed that Jones passed Labour Party documents to the Soviets for cash, with the last payments to Jones occurring in 1984.[13]

Jones also had a special relationship with and helped promote the interests of Gibraltarian workers, as well as the British Overseas Territory itself, through the auspices of the TGWU.


In retirement from the T&G, Jones served as the President of the National Pensioners Convention, an umbrella organisation representing over 1,000 local, regional and national pensioners' groups, of which he was Honorary Life President. He was also President of the International Brigade Memorial Trust. Jones' last public act was to unveil a memorial at Newhaven Fort on 7 December 2008, 70 years after British Battalion members returned to the port after the International Brigades were withdrawn from Spain.

Jones was nominated for the position of Chancellor of the University of London, but lost the election to Princess Anne in 1981. After writing his autobiography, Union Man (published in 1986), Jones became a campaigner on behalf of pensioners.

At the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth in October 2003, aged 90, he received a special award in recognition of his service to the trade union movement.

The TGWU building Transport House in Liverpool was refurbished by Unite (the trade union formed from the merger of the TGWU and Amicus) and renamed Jack Jones House in 2009.[14]

His name also lives on in a block of sheltered flats for the elderly built by Southwark Council on Reedham Street in Peckham.


Jones lived in South London until his death,[15][16] and died in a care home in Peckham on 21 April 2009.[17] He was survived by his two sons. His wife of more than 50 years, Evelyn (née Taylor) had died three years earlier. She had first been married to the communist trade union organiser and close friend of Jones, George Brown but he had been killed in the Battle of Brunete in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.


  1. "Jack Jones biography". Spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk. Archived from the original on 14 September 2009. Retrieved 21 April 2009.
  2. "Jack Jones". Seniors Network. Archived from the original on 24 July 2011. Retrieved 21 April 2009.
  3. Arthur, Max (2009). The Real Band of Brothers – First hand accounts from the last British survivors of the Spanish Civil War. Section 3 – Jack JONES, Page 125, reference to Jack Jones's opposition to the Blackshirts. Collins. ISBN 9780007295098.
  4. "Jack Jones". The Daily Telegraph. London. 22 April 2009. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  5. Legacy of Jack Jones 1913–2009 Fifth International. Retrieved 28 July 2009.
  6. Cobain, Ian (24 July 2018). "Wilson government used secret unit to smear union leaders". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  7. Butler, David and Kitzinger, Uwe (1976) The 1975 Referendum. London: Macmillan; p. 232.
  8. "Gallup Poll" (PDF). Margaret Thatcher (organisation). 1977.
  9. Patrick Wintour, 'Is this the week that Labour lost the next election?', The Guardian (31 January 2009).
  10. "Jack Jones, Soviet spy: Special Mail investigation reveals how union boss sold secrets to the KGB for 45 years". Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  11. Beckford, Martin (22 April 2009). "Former KGB colonel says he paid late union leader Jack Jones £200 for information". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  12. Beckford, Martin (22 April 2009). "Former KGB colonel says he paid late union leader Jack Jones £200 for information". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  13. "Jack Jones 'worked for KGB' claim", BBC News, 5 October 2009.
  14. NorthWest Regional Development Agency Unite gives Transport House new lease of life Archived 20 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine, nwda.co.uk; accessed 4 October 2017.
  15. "Jack Jones news story". Google.com. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  16. https://web.archive.org/web/20180815102057/https://www.homesandproperty.co.uk/area-guides/greater-london/living-in-camberwell-area-guide-to-homes-schools-and-transport-links-36896.html
  17. "Union boss Jack Jones dies at 96". BBC News. 21 April 2009. Retrieved 21 April 2009.


  • Jones, Jack (1986). Union Man. London: HarperCollins ISBN 0-00-217172-4
Trade union offices
Preceded by
Frank Cousins
General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union
Succeeded by
Moss Evans
Political offices
Preceded by
New position
President of the National Pensioners Convention
Succeeded by
Rodney Bickerstaffe
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