Born in February1907 in Southwark to a family which was often in poverty, Jack Dash left school at 14 to work as a page boy at a Lyons Corner House.
He later became a hod carrier, and worked in other jobs for short periods in between which he was unemployed. He enlisted in the Royal Army Service Corps and served for two years; he also became a professional boxer, fighting about a dozen bouts.
Jack joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1936 and was an active member of, the National Unemployed Workers' Movement. In 1940 Jack was drawn to the East End when he volunteered to be a member of the Fire Brigade during the height of the Blitz.
A fine orator, a good organiser and well respected by those he led - even those who disagreed with his politics... He was to become the undisputed rank-and-file leader of London Dockers, being involved in every strike from 1945 to 1969, and under him (between 1959 and 1972), the wages of Dockers trebled.
Jack was a member of the Transport and General Workers Union.
Despite the historic rivalry between the unions he was able to forge strong links with the Stevedores who, like Jack, had little time for paid officials. He referred to union bureaucrats, especially those who where members of the TUC, as mandarins. He would lament “Why is it even the best of them seemed to lose their class consciousness when becoming paid officials?”
Jack and the liaison committee also facilitated joint action with Dockers in Liverpool and elsewhere. This often had to be done secretly as it wasn't just the employers who would have loved to have seen the back of him. Documents released under the ‘30-year rule’ reveal that MI5 and MI6 kept close surveillance on Jack and other militant Dockers, even going so far as to plant informers. Much to the annoyance of the bureaucrat’s, government reports such as the Donovan Report stated it was Jack Dash and the shop stewards committee that ran industrial relations in the London docks.
The establishment were very concerned about the power of the shop stewards movement, and several attempts by both the labour and conservative parties to curb their power through legislation were tried during this period. The conservative government introduced the industrial relations act precisely to curb the power of the rank and file, culminating in the arrest of five militant shop stewards from the Royal Group of Docks, London, for having the courage to implement the policy and lines of action called for by the rank-and-file who elected them.
The five were arrested and were incarcerated in Pentonville prison. Such was the outcry that an unofficial general strike seemed to be on the cards. Vic Feather, general secretary of the TUC, informed the Prime Minister bluntly that the TUC could not control the rank-and-file. Edward Heath relented and the Dockers were released.
After a lifetime of struggle Jack retired to become an official London tourist guide and devote more time to his other hobbies of writing and painting. In retirement, Dash became an advocate for pensioners' rights.
He was commemorated by the naming of ‘Jack Dash House’, a municipal office building on the Isle of Dogs. Built by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in 1990 to honour the London Dockers Communist leader, it houses local council offices and the Jack Dash Gallery which holds regular exhibitions of contemporary art from Britain and all over the world. Jack Dash died in London in 1989 at the age of 82.
His autobiography Good Morning Brothers! published in 1969, was a testimony to his work as a militant trade unionist and his lifelong membership of the Communist Party. In it he said that the only epitaph he wanted was: "Here lies Jack Dash / All he wanted was / To separate them from their cash".
This is an original article by Terry McCarthy
Further reading: Free Our Fighters! Tract Two: The Pentonville Five by Jack Dash. Original pamphlet reprint Buy £7.99