Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hero, or Dinosaur ?

The Valley of the Fallen The Escorial

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’


The Weaver of Grass said...

How much I enjoyed this post. I too thought that Jack Jones had died years ago - those old Labour men were wonderful weren't they? Another one that sprang immediately to mind was Eric Heffer - I think he was MP for Liverpool for some time. He died some years ago but I always felt he was true to the cause. Jack Jones was one of my father's heroes too.
I read Laurie Lee on the Spanish Civil War only last week.

Jo said...

I have read and re-read both Laurie Lee's books on Spain, and I am always amazed that he just 'walked out' to Spain almost on a boyhood whim.
George Orwell also wtote a very good account of the Spanish Civil War (I think, but's a bit late and I've had a glass of wine!) I will write a bit more about that period on my next blog.

Reader Wil said...

He was a hero indeed! I didn't know him, but what you tell about him is impressive. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for your comment. In the meantime the driver of the car has died. He was a quiet, lonely man of 38. He must have been desperate.

Jon in France said...

Yeah, on balance a hero. Certainly one of the most prominent influences of the world I grew up in.

Whatever happened to Brenda Dean?

Jo said...

Apparently she was made a life peer in 1993(according to Wikipedia) and last heard of was Chairman of the Covent Garden Marketing Authority.
Sadly there are no 'big hitters' in the TUC now