Jack Jones

10 things you need to know

Regarded by many as a great trade union leader, here are ten things you need to know about Jack Jones.

  1. He has a union namesake

    Jack was born in March 1913 in Garston, a district of Liverpool and was christened James Larkin, after the republican socialist and trade union leader who led Dublin’s trade unionists through the 1913 strike and lockout.

  2. He left school aged 14

    He started an engineering apprenticeship, but left to work on the docks. He continued to study, doing evening courses and Ruskin College correspondence courses on industrial law and workmen’s compensation.

  3. Service to his community started young.

    By the age of 15 he was secretary of the local Labour Party and by 21 was elected to the T&G branch committee. Aged 23 he became Labour councillor for the Croxteth Ward in Liverpool.

  4. He fought in the Spanish Civil War.

    He first became aware of the war in Spain through Spanish workers in the Liverpool docks. He volunteered to fight for the International Brigade and was badly wounded at the Battle of the Ebro in 1938. While in Spain he met and became friends with a young Ted Heath, the future Conservative leader. Little did they know their paths would cross many times in the future.

  5. He brought great numbers to the union movement.

    In 1939 Jack became a TGWU organiser for the Coventry district. At the time, the regional membership was just 4,000 but by the time he left the Midlands in 1954 it was almost 40,000. During his time as general secretary of TGWU, membership rose to more than two million, representing workers in almost every sector of industry and services, and it was regarded as one of the most powerful groups of workers in the world.

  6. He campaigned for the five-day working week.

    In 1946 an agreement between the TGWU and Standard Motors introduced a five-day week of 42.5 hours. The following year this came into force nationally, giving the majority of workers a full weekend for the first time. Another agreement with Standard Motors in 1951 gave workers two weeks’ paid holiday.

  7. He served for a decade on TUC General Council.

    He was elected to the TUC’s General Council in 1968 and represented the trade union movement on a wide range of national and international public bodies.

  8. He championed new initiatives.

    Jack was a key figure in the establishment of the “social contract” on wages (1975–79) and a partnership between the Labour governments of Harold Wilson and Callaghan and the TUC. He also played a part in the establishment of ACAS, the body that helps resolve workplace disputes.

  9. He was once regarded as the most powerful man in Britain.

    In January 1977 a Gallup opinion poll found that 54% of people believed he was the most powerful person in Britain, ahead of the Prime Minister. The same year he delivered the BBC Dimbleby Lecture on The Human Face of Labour. He was made a Companion of Honour, a special award granted by the Queen to those who have made a major contribution to the arts, science, medicine, or government lasting over a long period of time.

  10. In retirement he became known as the pensioners’ champion.

    On retirement he helped to set up the National Pensioners Convention, an umbrella organisation representing over 1,000 local, regional and national pensioners’ groups, and became its president. He was also vice-president of Age Concern England (now Age UK) from 1978–2009.