Do you ever hear on a news item that someone has died who you imagined had died some time ago? That happened to me this week when I heard of the death of Jack Jones.
Born on the eve of the Great War of 1914-18 Jack was one of the last ‘old style’ union leaders; some would say a political dinosaur, but I would prefer to call him a true Socialist, a vanishing breed in the UK perhaps, but unlike the dinosaur, not quite extinct.
Whatever one’s own politics Jack Jones’ solidarity to a cause was something you just had to admire. He doggedly resisted the lure of champagne socialism, the chattering classes of Hampstead Heath, and trendy wine bars so beloved of New Labour. Instead, at trade unions conferences in particular, he shunned the four and five star accommodation of his fellow delegates and stuck to his favourite B&Bs in Eastbourne, Blackpool or wherever, travelling back and forth to the conference hall by bus. His familiar cloth cap wasn’t something invented by spin doctors, it was Jack being Jack,
When he retired from the hurly-burly of the trades union world he still couldn’t leave it entirely, and he became the senior citizens champion, riding into battle for pensioners rights and becoming the first president of the National Pensioners Convention.
In the mid 1930’s Jack’s left wing politics were to take him far from his Liverpool roots, across the Pyrenees to Catalonia where he joined the International Brigade and fought for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. He was eventually wounded in the battle of Ebro, repatriated and spent the rest of the war organising aid for the Republicans.
His loathing of Franco and the Nationalist government was to endure until the General’s death in 1975, and he was vociferous in his condemnation of Labour and TUC leaders who took holidays to Spain while the Franco regime was in power.
I have long had a sort of morbid fascination with the Spanish Civil War, ever since my first visits to the country in the early 70’s. In the centre of the country, not far from Madrid, is the Valley of the Fallen, or the Valle de los Caidos. It’s difficult to describe the effect this monolithic monstrosity has on the unwary visitor. You really have to know the background to this bloody episode in Spanish history to appreciate just how unwittingly this piece of grandiose mawkishness illustrates the oppressiveness of the Franco regime
You can see the building miles away; it’s difficult to miss a 500 ft concrete cross. It stands atop a huge crypt carved out from granite cliffs by the losing side (the Republicans) after the Civil War, and is the final resting place of El Caudillo …Francisco Franco. Some tomb!
It is now classed as a national monument, and it can be combined with an excursion to the Escorial, the huge palace built by Philip II of Spain, as the two places are only a few miles from each other. It is worth a visit if only to provide time for reflection on the futility of war, and the complete madness of civil war.
Jack Jones’ journey from the International Brigade to the National Pensioners’ Convention was a long and momentous one, and the next time you use your free bus pass, or receive your winter fuel payment remember who it was who pushed the government to make life a bit easier for senior citizens, and say …’Thanks, Jack’