THE ENEMY WITHIN.
by Wilma s. Bolton
Wilma sent this story to Historic Hamilton at the start of last month and the story could be seen as controversial, however it is based on facts and letters published in the Hamilton Advertiser.
When we consider the damage to local buildings caused by the extraction of coal during the 19th and 20th centuries, Hamilton is indeed fortunate to have many fine old grey, red and honey coloured sandstone buildings still surviving. Looking at these buildings, some of which still show evidence of subsidence damage, it is hard to comprehend how the town’s residents managed to live with the daily threat of collapsing homes and the ever present danger of falling masonry and slates.
Such was the extent of the damage, a town Bailie is recorded as saying at a council meeting during December 1891 that “if a stranger were to pass through the town at present, he would think it had been wrecked by an earthquake,” another remarked that “tenants were living in terror”. On June 3rd, 1911 the Hamilton Advertiser reported that “that the new and costly Academy in Auchincampbell Road is showing signs of fracture from mineral workings before the walls are more than half-way up”. To prevent further damage, coal hundreds of feet below the building was purchased from the Bent Coal Company and left in situ to provide solid foundations. Graphic accounts in local archives tell of joists snapping in the middle of the night and people in night clothes fleeing their homes as gable ends, roofs and chimney stacks collapsed. Fractured gas mains set fire to property and buildings all over the town were being shored up to prevent them collapsing. If the old buildings which are left could talk, many of them would have extremely diverse and interesting tales to tell.
A classic example of this is the grey sandstone building at number 116 Cadzow Street, the story of which is inextricably linked to the industrial history of our town and which without a shadow of a doubt, has more stories to tell than most. Now being privately renovated, it was seriously neglected by South Lanarkshire Council who had bought the property. The building was paid for by coal miners contributions and was once the proud headquarters of Lanarkshire Miners’ Union. If only the building could talk, it is a silent witness to a gargantuan battle between moderate trade unionists and the Communist Party who were intent in achieving total control over the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union.
Designed by Alexander Cullen and built to replace the New Cross offices of the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union, the building was opened on July 16th, 1908, by John Robertson the building committee convener. Union secretary David Gilmour in his opening speech, publicly acknowledged that Blantyre’s late William Small was one of the pioneers whose labours had made it possible for them to reach their present strong position.” He also spoke of another great pioneer Alexander MacDonald, M.P. 1821-1881, who in 1829 at the age of eight entered a Monklands mine where he worked for eighteen years. Harnessed like a beast of burden, MacDonald and other children aged from seven to eleven slaved every day transporting hutches of coal to the surface. Almost forty years later, on the 28th April, 1868, when called to give evidence to the Royal Commission on Trade Unions, he gave a graphic account of how the children “wore leather belts for our shoulders. We had to keep dragging the coal with these ropes over our shoulders, sometimes round the middle with a chain between our legs. Then there was always another behind pushing with his head.”
Alexander MacDonald was gifted with a quick mind but had little formal education; however, in his twenties he started attending night school after work and developed an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Eventually he gained admission to Glasgow University the fees of which he funded by working as a coal miner during holidays. His education enabled him to work as a teacher, but never forgetting his years underground he spent the rest of his life trying to improve the lives of coal miners by becoming actively involved in the formation of a miners’ union. His harrowing evidence given before the Royal Commission on Trades Unions was instrumental in the passing of legislation for the 1872 Mines Act which vastly improved the working conditions for both miners and children. Another product of his leadership was the Mines Act of 1860, which empowered miners to appoint and pay a checkweigher from among their number to be present at the weighing of coal to ensure that the correct weight was recorded. Prior to this, miners were regularly underpaid for the coal they sent up to the pit head. In 1874 MacDonald stood as a Lib–Lab candidate for Stafford and won, becoming one of the first working-class members of the House of Commons. Throughout his life he fought to improve conditions for coalminers. He died in 1891at Hamilton’s only recently demolished Wellhall House and was buried in Monklands Churchyard. As his funeral cortège passed through Hamilton, the streets were lined with thousands of miners paying their last respects to a good man and a great trade unionist.
Many men of a similar caliber followed in Alexander McDonald’s footsteps. Men like Keir Hardie, Hector McNeil, Robert Steel, John Dunn, Robert Smillie, William Small, William B. Small, David Gilmour and John Robertson, all of them trail blazers who fought long hard battles to win safer and better conditions for miners and whose qualities of courage, honesty and conviction count them with Alexander MacDonald as the founding fathers of the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union.
The end of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century saw a relatively prosperous period for miners, but with war clouds gathering over Europe, life for them was never going to be quite the same again. With the declaration of World War One on August 4th 1914, countless men left the pits to fight for their country and they fought with distinction and great courage.
The peace which followed the carnage resulted in thousands of miners returning home expecting to be re-employed in local coal mines only to find that the market for British coal was collapsing and their chance of finding work was almost negligible. Hamilton pits still working were on short time and in September 1919, the Bent, Greenfield, Earnock, Neilsland, Hamilton Palace and all the Larkhall collieries closed until further notice throwing 10,000 men out of work. It was during this period of mass unemployment there appeared a more insidious and dangerous enemy than any they had ever encountered before….. the Communist Party, organised by local power hungry political extremists.
Seeing the vulnerability and despair endemic in the coal fields, the Communists seized the opportunity and the battle for complete control of 116 Cadzow Street began. Party zealots targeted the unemployed miners knowing that hunger and poverty left them extremely vulnerable to their persuasive tongues. Had employment and working conditions been normal, the usually sensible and hard working Labour voting miners would have laughed at their radical beliefs, but destitution and worry can change the way people think and the propaganda preached to men who were at their wits end trying to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads appeared to some like the solution to their problems. Desperate men blinded by promises of full employment, a six hour day and wages higher than they could ever have dreamed of were brainwashed into believing in a Communist utopia.
Blantyre in particular had become a Communist hotbed and the miners’ smoldering insecurities were blown into flames by highly organised propaganda campaigns orchestrated by communists like Andrew McAnulty and William Allan, who taking their instructions and orders from their Communist masters preyed upon the despair of the unemployed coal miners in their effort to gain outright political power.
During the 1921 miners’ strike and the long drawn out agony of the 1926 strike, the members of the Communist Party of Great Britain were to the fore in using the dissemination of their propaganda as a political strategy in an attempt to win over the coal miners to their cause. A letter clearly referring to the dangers appeared in the following excerpt from a letter published in the July 19th, 1926 edition of The Lanarkshire which left the reader in no doubt as to who the writer’s was talking about when he asks “is there a Labour man in Blantyre who imagines he can see home questions better with Soviet spectacles than with Scottish or Blantyre goggles?”
By 1927, 20,000 Lanarkshire colliery workers were unemployed. The disastrous 1926 strike resulted in large regular European orders being lost to Silesian coal companies where miners were paid £1 for working a seventy hour week. The coal from these mines was sold at prices Britain could never compete with. Another major factor for unemployment among Lanarkshire miners was the exhaustion of many of the seven to ten feet high seams of prime splint coal used for blast furnaces and a greater part of the coal output was being obtained from seams of two feet or less in thickness. These seams were more difficult and expensive to work resulting in the closure of many uneconomic collieries. This had a knock on effect on neighbouring pits where the pumping equipment failed to cope with the flooding coming from the abandoned mines, causing them in turn to shut down. The Hamilton Advertiser noted on December 15th, 1928, that “78 pits were reported to have closed down in Lanarkshire, throwing 3218 employees out of work and 540 pits previously employing 34,330 wage earners had been abandoned in Great Britain since January 1927”. For the once great British coal industry, this was the beginning of the end.
A stark warning about the Communist infiltration was included in the March 12th, 1927 edition of the Hamilton Advertiser. This article records how “The Miners’ Minority Movement was carrying out intensive propaganda for the reorganisation of the Miners’ Federation and taking advantage of the dislocated condition of the Federation and district unions as a result of the strike. They are a unit of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and their objective is the overthrow of the present system by revolutionary methods. They make demands which are economically impossible. It is not their desire that the miners should reason them out, but accept them as submitted so that they can carry out an attitude of discontent which is the most important factor in their propaganda. Their movement is not wholly maintained by their members, who are mostly unemployed. It would be of interest if some of the officials, say Mr Allan, would come forward and let the miners be acquainted with the source of their revenue.” The article advises that “the workers must do their part in refusing to listen to the agitators who create strikes for their own benefit and to the detriment of the miner.”
Miners were aware of the indoctrination tactics being used by the Communists and articles and letters on the subject were appearing on a regular basis in local newspapers. A letter published in the Hamilton Advertiser of February 18th, 1928 points out the dangers and makes the following plea to the mining community “we need a Miners’ Union free from the scarlet fever of Communism. Referring to the carnage of World War One, the writer reminds readers that “all nations are now banded together in an effort to abolish war with all its horrors. The only section of the community is that of the Communists, who seek to let loose the dogs of commercial strife and this is but a step forward to the rattle of machine guns and the sowing the seeds of death and desolation. War, whether in the battlefield or in the industrial field must be paid for. What decent folk want is peace and the prosperity that alone can come from peace.”
By this time most branches of the Miners’ Union had been infiltrated and the Hamilton Advertiser of August 18th 1928 published a letter from an outraged miner in Ponfeigh near Douglas Water, telling how James Hunter the “late” Communist local branch secretary of the Lanarkshire Mineworkers’ Union, had attempted to falsify a Communist majority in a Union ballot. The writer describes how the entry written by Hunter in the minutes of the local branch meeting of 5th December recorded a Communist victory for a ballot which was not held untill the 9th, three days after he had documented the “results” in the book.
The Hamilton Advertiser regularly warned the mining communities about the dangers of Communism. On June 2nd, 1928 headlines of “COMMUNISM EXPOSED” reported how the National Union of Scottish Mineworkers had issued a strong condemnation of the Communist and Minority Movement at a meeting in Glasgow of the Executive Committee presided over by Mr Robert Smellie, M.P. the first President of the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union from its inception in 1889 until January 1919. At the meeting, he made an appeal for the “the men and women in the Scottish coalfield to support the Union.” Their movement he stated had only been made possible by the service and sacrifice of numberless men and women who had paid the price in suffering, privation and victimisation as the result of their activities on behalf of the workers.” He added: —“The growth and development of our organisation during recent years encourage us to hope that at the next General Election a Labour Government in power is reasonably possible. With Labour in power the beginning of a new and happier era in the working class struggle will commence.” His explicit message couldn’t have been any clearer as he spoke of how “the Communist Party and its auxiliary body, the Minority Movement, were acting on definite instructions from an outside and foreign executive authority and were seeking to capture the industrial and political machinery built up by the workers of this country. Their method of achieving this is as unscrupulous as it is dishonest. ‘Don’t trust your leaders’ is their slogan, while their own slavish subservience and implicit obedience to their own masters the autocrats of the Red International, is only equalled by their desire to attain the position of those whom they have systematically transduced with that object only in view. That the Communist Party and the Minority Movement are one and the same is now proved. They are the children of the same parents, and cannot by the very nature of their connection carry out the will of the workers, as they must not concern themselves with what the Union members think but only what the Executive of Moscow International decides. The will of the majority means nothing to them and their professional desire to serve the interests of their fellow Trade Unionists becomes a lying phrase in the mouths of men who have bound themselves to carry out the dictates of this autocracy to whom they are responsible… their method of obtaining selection and election.”
At 116 Cadzow Street, a desperate battle was being played out in an attempt to prevent the Communist members of Lanarkshire Mineworkers’ Union taking over the Union at elections due to take place in June 1928. Moderate members of the Executive tried to place a ban on Communist interference at a meeting of the Executive held at Hamilton and the following resolution was submitted by them:– “To draw attention to the interference of the Communist organisation and its ally, the so-called Minority Movement, with the questions affecting the internal and domestic affairs of the Lanarkshire Mineworkers’ Union by holding open public meetings to which persons are invited who have no concern or interest in the miners’ organisation and, at which resolutions are made to support the candidature for official positions in the Lanarkshire Mineworkers’ Union of such persons as are willing to carry out instructions given or conveyed to them by emissaries of the above named outside and alien organisations; and as their interference is an invasion of the right of members of the Lanarkshire Mineworkers’ Union to choose their representatives in a manner consistent with their usual custom and practice, and intended to cause friction and dissension, this Executive Committee recommends that any person on the panel of those outside organisations, and being recommended by them, be declared ineligible to hold any official or executive position in the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union, and that his or their name or names should not be submitted to the members of the organisation to be voted upon at any election.”
Communist Andrew McAnulty, by now Union president ruled the resolution out of order, whereupon his ruling was challenged and it was moved that he be asked to leave the chair. This motion was carried by a 2 to 1 majority, whereupon the proceedings were adjourned. At a subsequent meeting, McAnulty insisted on continuing as chairman and as a consequence, another state of deadlock was reached.
By June 30th, 1928 the Communist leaders of the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union were reported to be sending delegates into English mining areas to ask for help in their fight to clear out the “old gang” (the moderates). The same week it was stated, “A Lanarkshire Communist has been in Nottingham coalfields begging the miners there to assist the Lanarkshire “Reds” in their plans to capture the union machine.” The majority members of the executive of the Lanarkshire Miners’ County Union, who have been demanding that Mr Andrew McAnulty should vacate the position of chairman, issued a manifesto yesterday in support of their attitude. The objection to Mr McAnulty arose because of his refusal to allow a motion which proposed to ban all nominees for union positions whose names appear on the lists of the Communist Party and Minority Movement.” The manifesto, which was signed by three miners’ M. P.’s and others declared:–
“The Lanarkshire Miners’ Union have been in chaos since June 5 when the business of the union has been held up by the chairman Mr Andrew McAnulty, who has put forward a claim that “his decision on any subject must be accepted by the members as final and conclusive”. He has repeatedly refused since the above date to allow the question at issue, viz., the right of the members to appoint their officials, delegates, and members of the Executive Council free from the interference of persons belonging to the Communist Party and Minority Movement, to be considered either by the Executive Council or a conference of delegates. As this arrogant and impudent claim, if admitted, would destroy all representative and democratic organisation, the following members of the executive who form the majority, have no alternative but to advise local officials and members that any communication they may receive from the chairman and secretary of the union with respect to elections or any other matter will be unauthorised and irregular until after a conference of delegates has been called.”
Andrew McAnulty was a fanatical hard line Communist and a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The objective of every Communist was to infiltrate organisations, increase party membership and supply new recruits. The Communist radicalisation of the Lanarkshire coal miners had begun and with McAnulty at the helm, Communists infiltrated the union at an alarming rate.
In August 1928, local non Communist miners’ MP’s and Lanarkshire Miners’ Union members in an attempt to remove McAnulty and his Communist comrades applied for and were granted a note of suspension and interdict in the Bill Chamber of the Court of Session, Edinburgh. This suspension prompted his resignation at the end of August 1928. In his letter of resignation he gave “a loss of self esteem and his nerves being affected” due to the attempts by the moderates to have him removed.
into a union, I should like to set a few plain facts before them. For some time past we have had nothing in our district but debt and disunion. Now our enthusiasm is rekindled and we are told if the Blantyre miners intend to attain to their former admirable position, we needs just copy the wise example of other districts. Very good indeed, Mr McAnulty is the one that has to enact “the one eyed monarch among the blind,” and we, the Blantyre miners, have to contribute our quota to keep up the magnificent fun. I marvel much at their impertinence when we miners reflect on the unions of the past. Now sir, I could carpet a floor with union books and all the union money vanished in expenses. Now, we are asked to start another by the same agent that made the rest of the unions beautiful failures. Surely the Blantyre miners are not going to ballot a man on for his ability and cleverness in breaking up unions. If that be the case, I as one object, until I get a clear understanding. Has Mr McAnulty not openly said that all the unions in the past were useless? Then I ask him on what lines he is intending to draft this new species? Will it be one of the old species? Will it be one of the old kind which took all we miners could contribute for postcards and what the committee could borrow for ink? If that is to be the sort of union, I would advise the Blantyre miners to have none of it. Let us not build up another frail, fragile sham. If we have to be in union at all, let us have a solid one that will be appreciated and carry weight with it. Goodness knows, it makes men’s brains sick to observe so many unions set a going only to crumble away. I am, yours, etc., Frederick Farrell.
In recent years the airbrushing of Andrew McAnulty’s contribution to Lanarkshire’s mining history has resulted in him being erroneously described as the “first” president of the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union and “champion of the working class,” instead of a dyed in the wool Communist whose political ambition and radical extremist beliefs caused nothing but strife, strikes, suffering and poverty for miners and their families. Much has been made of his unfurling of the National Coal Board flag at the newly nationalised Dixon’s Collieries in 1947 and of being awarded a weekly pension of £2 by the National Union of Mineworkers’ whose General Secretary William Pearson just happened to be a close friend of McAnulty and a fanatical Communist and a prolific contributor to the letters column of the Hamilton Advertiser, where his descriptions of the wonderful working and living conditions enjoyed by Soviet miners in Stalin’s Siberian coal mines beggars belief. Sixty years after Andrew McAnulty’s death, Blantyre’s Stonefield Public Park was renamed McAnulty Park much to the anger and disbelief of many Blantyre residents a number of whom noted their disapproval through the letters pages of the Hamilton Advertiser.
Historical accuracy is often the first casualty when eyewitnesses are dead and no one is left to challenge what has been written; but the indisputable evidence of the Communist take over of Lanarkshires Miners’ Unions has not vanished into the mists of time. The rank and file throughout the coal mining communities repeatedly contributed to local newspapers voicing their alarm at what was happening and in doing so, they recorded the facts, fears and their eyewitness accounts of what was taking place throughout the Lanarkshire coal field and beyond. Their testimony can be found in the archives of the old Hamilton Advertisers which are available for the public to read at Hamilton Town House Reference Library situated at 102 Cadzow Street and only a stone’s throw from the former miners’ union headquarters at 116 Cadzow Street, Hamilton where this story began
© Wilma S. Bolton. 2014.