Jack William Jones, born 1900: Politics, Protest & Class Part 1

From the very beginning of his memoir Jack  details the history of the London bus sector over a period of 15 years and we get the notion that any detours from this theme such as his family background or his education, are just a building block of context to his life in politically challenging times of the London Trade Union movement.

Jack shares with us that ‘London Busmen earned their reputation for being one of the most militant sections, both industrially and politically, of the trade union movement’ developing a peak membership of 9000 Londoners, almost a third of the labour force employed in the twenties and thirties. As well as discussing the Union at its best Jack takes us on a journey through the repeated attacks of the employer, including the sacking of many of the strikers and the movement leaders, recording memberships to fall to little more than 100.

As history tells us the Trade Union movement was made up of much more than just the London Busmen and so Jacks memoir takes us through step by step through 1913, the union of London busmen with the cabmen, forming the London and Provincial Union of Vehicle Workers, where members wore a red button as a sign of their membership, enhancing the militancy of the new combined political force. The leaders of the union, suggesting that the ‘capitalist war of 1914-1918’, a war in which they would have no part struck even Jack himself as tactical political militancy of the time, demonstrating the loneliness and isolation of the entire political campaign.

Women at the bus strike in 1918

The Timeline below shows the important events that Jack mentions in his political journey for the fight for the ‘right for equal pay and equal work’ . This political movement allowed women, supported by the men, to win for the very first time equal pay. This is addition to, the importance of the win in 1922 for the unity of all passenger and road transport workers, expanding the transport and general worker’s union by more than 20 other unions, enhanced the political dominance of the cause.

As for Jack’s involvement in the politics himself, he joined the London General Omnibus Company in 1925 and tells us all about his move to Dalston where he stayed with the company for 45 years. At first Jack was reluctant to join the political cause: ‘I well remember, as I walked down Shrubland Road to Work, saying to myself “Don’t tell me they’re on bleeding strike again”’. But soon he found himself deeply involved and took part in the 1926 general strike, where he remembers the ‘many clashes with the police when overturning vehicles along High street, Shoreditch’. He was then appointed as the collector and distributor of the T.U.C Strike news. (pictured below)

The first issue of The British Worker, 5 May 1926. The paper was published by TUC for the duration of the strike and was printed on the presses of the Daily Herald. Similar to that which would have been delivered by Jack William Jones




A image of one of the vehicles of the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) of which Jack William Jones worked for


Jack’s battles involved other trade unionists as well as employers: ‘I can now pass to some of the bitterest struggles of the London Busmen, not only with their employers but with their trade union leadership’ [1] The LGOC, which Jack worked for demanded pay cuts and sped up bus schedules placing more and more pressure on the workers and met ‘widespread opposition of the men’. This led to the Rank and File Movement and weeks of political struggle between the men and their trade union leaders who urged them to accept the inevitable. The Rand and File achieved their first win with employers withdrawing their demand for a wage reduction and offered an eight-hour day, in return for a speed up of the bus systems.

The Busman’s Punch Attached to Jack William Jones’s Memoir


Jack included many extracts from The Busman’s Punch in his memoir  (pictured). It became the official newspaper for the overwhelming majority of bus branches who associated with the movement and it developed a readership of over 20,000 people. Many of the literature provided on the Ranks and File Movement, and the historians who have written about it would suggest that it was organised and controlled by the Communist Party. But Jack points out that this is far from the truth and by including extracts from the paper in his memoir he sought to show its importance to working people.

Through an enquiry that was launched into the London Busmen Rank and File movement, Jack himself, a man called Bert Papwork the foremost leader of the movement and a few others were expelled from both work and political involvement. We are informed by Jack that it did not last long as there was a widespread campaign launched for a reversal of the decision, and within a few months both Jack and Bert was elected to the C.B.C and the G.E.C until retirement. Jack may have retired in 1968, but in no way abandoned his passion for politics.


The Transport Workers Trade Movement timeline

1884 – Union first formed

1891 – First 6-day strike for a 12-hour day

1913 – The rebuilding of the union the busmen joined with London Cabmen – Provincial Union of Vehicle Workers) workers wore a red badge as a sign of their involvement)

1915 – Talks began of a new union after the tramway men were defeated

1918 – The time of the ‘bus women’ – the right for equal pay and equal work – the women strike, supported by men and equal pay was won.

1920 – The United Vehicle Workers Union was developed (busmen, cabman and tramway men)

1922 – The unity for all the passenger and road transport workers won under Ernest Bevin (first General Secretary)

1925 – J. W Jones joined the London General Omnibus Company

1926 – Jones participated in the General Strike – he was collector and distributor of the T.U.C strike news

1932 – the L.G.O.C demand a wage reduction and a speed up of the bus schedules

  • Jones becomes the movements secretary – 1937

1936 – Agitation for the 7 ½ hour day ‘busmen deserve to live a little longer’ campaign

1937 – Coronation Strike

  • Jones was expelled from the union

1949 – Jones was debarred from holding any office and was elected into the C.B.C and the G.E.C (until 1968)


[1] Jack William Jones, Untitled, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:250, available at http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10895


London transport museum online accessed 26.06.17

https://unionbadges.wordpress.com/2008/11/09/tuc-1926-general-strike-newspaper [Accessed 26.04.17)


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