Tom Mann

Last updated

Tom Mann
Thomas Mann

(1856-04-15)15 April 1856
Died13 March 1941(1941-03-13) (aged 84)
Grassington, England
Political party British Socialist Party

Thomas Mann (15 April 1856 – 13 March 1941), was an English trade unionist and is widely recognised as a leading, pioneering figure for the early labour movement in Britain. Largely self-educated, Mann became a successful organiser and a popular public speaker in the British labour movement. [1]


Early years

Mann was born on 15 April 1856, on Grange Road, Foleshill. His birth house was previously maintained by Coventry City Council, but is now privately owned after being sold in 2004. The property still stands today. Mann was the son of a clerk who worked at a colliery. He attended school from the ages of six to nine, then began work doing odd jobs on the colliery farm. A year later he became a trapper, a labour-intensive job that involved clearing blockages from the narrow airways in the mining shafts. [1] [2] [3]

In 1870, the colliery was forced to close and the family moved to Birmingham. Mann soon found work as an engineering apprentice. He attended public meetings addressed by Annie Besant and John Bright, and this began his political awareness. He completed his apprenticeship in 1877 and moved to London, however he was unable to find work as an engineer and took a series of unskilled jobs.[ citation needed ]

In 1879, Mann found work in an engineering shop. Here he was introduced to socialism by the foreman, and decided to improve his own education. His reading included the works of William Morris, Henry George, and John Ruskin.[ citation needed ] In 1881 he joined the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, and took part in his first strike. In 1884, he joined the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in Battersea. [4] Here he met John Burns and Henry Hyde Champion, who encouraged him to publish a pamphlet calling for the working day to be limited to eight hours. Mann formed an organisation, the Eight Hour League, which successfully pressured the Trades Union Congress to adopt the eight-hour day as a key goal.

Activist and leader

After reading The Communist Manifesto in 1886, Mann became a communist. He now believed the main purpose of the labour movement should be to overthrow capitalism, rather than just to ameliorate the condition of workers under it. He moved to Newcastle in 1887 and organised the SDF in the north of England. He managed Keir Hardie's electoral campaign in Lanark before returning to London in 1888[ citation needed ], where he worked in support of the Bryant and May match factory strike. [4] With Burns and Champion, he began producing a journal, the Labour Elector , in 1888.

Along with Burns and Ben Tillett, Mann was one of the leading figures in the London dock strike of 1889. He was responsible for organising relief for the strikers and their families. With the support of other unions and various organisations, the strike was successful. Following the strike, Mann was elected President of the newly formed Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers' Union, with Tillett as General Secretary. Tillett and Mann wrote a pamphlet called New Unionism , which advanced the utopian ideal of a co-operative commonwealth. Mann was also elected to the London Trades and Labour Council and as secretary of the National Reform Union, and was a member of the Royal Commission on Labour from 1891 to 1893. In 1894, he was a founding member of the Independent Labour Party and became the party Secretary in 1894. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the party in the 1895 general election. In 1896 he was beaten in the election for Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. He helped create the International Transport Workers' Federation, and was its first President. He was deported from a number of European countries for organising trade unions.[ citation needed ]

Mann's religious belief was as strong as his politics. He was an Anglican and organised support from Christian organisations like the Salvation Army during a number of strikes. In 1893 there were rumours that he intended to become a church minister. He advocated the co-operative model of economic organisation, but resisted alliance between the ILP and other socialist organisations in Britain, like the Fabians. In 1895, the Fabian Beatrice Webb criticised Mann's absolutism and described his goal derogatorily as, "a body of men all professing exactly the same creed and all working in exact uniformity to exactly the same end". Philip Snowden, a member of the ILP, liked Mann but was critical of his inability to stay with any one party or organisation for more than a few years.

Australia and Liverpool

Leaflet reproducing Mann's 'Open Letter to British Soldiers' (transcription) Open Letter to British Soldiers.jpg
Leaflet reproducing Mann's 'Open Letter to British Soldiers' (transcription)

In 1902, Mann emigrated to Australia, to see if that country's broader electoral franchise would allow more "drastic modification of capitalism". Settling in Melbourne, he was active in Australian trade unions and became an organiser for the Australian Labor Party. However, he grew disillusioned with the party, believing it was being corrupted by the nature of government and concerned only with winning elections. He felt that the federal Labor MPs were unable and unwilling to change society, and their prominence within the movement was stifling and over-shadowing organised labour. He resigned from the ALP and founded the Victorian Socialist Party.

Returning to Britain in 1910, Mann wrote The Way to Win, a pamphlet that argued that socialism could be achieved only through trade unionism and co-operation, and that parliamentary democracy was inherently corrupt. He founded the Industrial Syndicalist Education League, and worked as an organiser for Ben Tillett. He led the 1911 Liverpool General Transport Strike. In 1912 he was convicted under the Incitement to Mutiny Act 1797 of publishing an article in The Syndicalist , as an "Open Letter to British Soldiers", urging them to refuse to shoot at strikers (later reprinted as a leaflet, Don't Shoot); his prison sentence was quashed after public pressure. He was opposed to Britain's involvement in World War I on socialist and religious grounds and addressed pacifist rallies.

On 10 June 1913 he spoke at Wednesbury Market Place in support of strikers in the Great Black Country Trades Dispute, which lasted for two months and threatened government preparations for World War I[ citation needed ]. Mann returned to the area again on 3 July.

In 1917, he joined the successor to the Social Democratic Federation, the British Socialist Party, which had affiliated to the Labour Party the previous year.[ citation needed ]

Veteran campaigner

In 1919, he again ran for election as Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, this time successfully. He held the post until 1921, when he retired at the age of sixty-five. He welcomed the Russian October Revolution in 1917 and the Communist government, and called for soviets to be formed in the United Kingdom. In 1920, he was one of many members of the British Socialist Party, inspired by the Revolution, who formed the Communist Party of Great Britain. Mann was chairman of the British Bureau of the Red International of Labor Unions and its successor, the National Minority Movement, from their formation in 1921 until 1929. [5]

Tom Mann continued to actively champion socialism, communism, and co-operation, until his death in 1941. He published further pamphlets and regularly addressed public meetings, in Britain and abroad. He was arrested for sedition, on several occasions. He continued to be a popular figure in the labour movement, attracting large audiences to rallies and benefits. Mann advocated animal rights and was supportive of the Humanitarian League. [6] [7]

Spanish Civil War

On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936, Mann became a member of the Spanish Medical Aid Committee, an organization that had been set-up by the Socialist Medical Association and other progressive groups. [8] During the Spanish Civil War, he wanted to fight on the Republican side, but was by that time far too old. A unit of the International Brigade, the Tom Mann Centuria, was named in his honour.

Death and legacy

Plaque dedicated to Mann at Golders Green Crematorium Tom Mann - Golders Green Crematorium.jpg
Plaque dedicated to Mann at Golders Green Crematorium

Tom Mann died at age 84, on 13 March 1941 in Grassington, Northern Yorkshire. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium. A memorial stands in front of the cottage where he died. There is also a memorial on his birthplace in Coventry. [1] As mentioned, in 1936 a unit of the International Brigade was named the Tom Mann Centuria in his honour. The Tom Mann Theatre in Sydney, Australia, was named after him. His great-grandson was Nicholas Bennett, [9] Conservative MP for Pembroke from 1987 to 1992 and a Welsh Office minister from 1990 to 1992.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">New Communist Party of Britain</span> Political party in the United Kingdom

The New Communist Party of Britain is an anti-revisionist Marxist–Leninist communist party in Britain. The origins of the NCP lie in the Communist Party of Great Britain from which it split in 1977. The organisation takes an anti-revisionist stance on Marxist–Leninism and is opposed to Eurocommunism. After the fall of the Soviet Union the party was one of two original British signatories to the Pyongyang Declaration in 1992. It publishes a newspaper named The New Worker.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">A. J. Cook (trade unionist)</span> British trade union leader

Arthur James Cook, was a British trade union leader who was General Secretary of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain from 1924 until 1931, a period that included the 1926 General Strike.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Common Wealth Party</span> Political party in the United Kingdom

The Common Wealth Party (CW) was a socialist political party in the United Kingdom with parliamentary representation in the House of Commons from 1942 until 1946. Thereafter CW continued to function, essentially as a pressure group, until 1993.

The National Minority Movement was a British organisation, established in 1924 by the Communist Party of Great Britain, which attempted to organise a radical presence within the existing trade unions. The organization was headed by longtime unionist Tom Mann and future General Secretary of the CPGB Harry Pollitt.

The Victorian Socialist Party (VSP) was a socialist political party in the Australian state of Victoria during the early 20th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wal Hannington</span>

Walter "Wal" Hannington (1896–1966) was a founding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and National Organiser of the National Unemployed Workers' Movement, from its formation in 1921 to its end in 1939, when he became National Organiser of the Amalgamated Engineering Union.

John Gordon Michael Lawrence was a leading far-left activist in a wide variety of groups in Britain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Hicks (trade unionist)</span>

Ernest George Hicks was a British trades unionist and Labour Party politician.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James Thompson Bain</span>

James Thomson "JT" Bain was a socialist and syndicalist in colonial South Africa.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anarchism in Ireland</span> Political movement in the Republic of Ireland

Anarchism in Ireland has its roots in the stateless organisation of the túatha in Gaelic Ireland. It first began to emerge from the libertarian socialist tendencies within the Irish republican movement, with anarchist individuals and organisations sprouting out of the resurgent socialist movement during the 1880s, particularly gaining prominence during the time of the Dublin Socialist League.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">J. R. Campbell (communist)</span>

John Ross Campbell was a British communist activist and newspaper editor. Campbell was a co-founder of the Communist Party of Great Britain and briefly served as its second leader from July 1928 to July 1929. He is best remembered as the principal in the Campbell Case. In 1924, Campbell was charged under the Incitement to Mutiny Act for an article published in the paper Workers' Weekly. Campbell called on British soldiers to "let it be known that, neither in the class war nor in a military war, will you turn your guns on your fellow workers, but instead will line up with your fellow workers in an attack upon the exploiters and capitalists." He was sentenced to six months in prison.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ben Tillett</span> British politician

Benjamin Tillett was a British socialist, trade union leader and politician. He was a leader of the "new unionism" of 1889 that focused on organizing unskilled workers. He played a major role in founding the Dockers Union, and played a prominent role as a strike leader in dock strikes in 1911 and 1912. He enthusiastically supported the war effort in the First World War. He was pushed aside by Ernest Bevin during the consolidation that created the Transport and General Workers' Union in 1922, who gave Tillett a subordinate position. Scholars stress his evangelical dedication to the labour cause, while noting his administrative weaknesses. Clegg Fox and Thompson described him as a demagogue and agitator grasping for fleeting popularity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bert Ramelson</span> British politician

Baruch Rahmilevich Mendelson, commonly known as Bert Ramelson, was an industrial organiser and politician for the Communist Party of Great Britain. He held the post of National Industrial Organiser from 1965 to 1977, and was editor and a member of editorial board of the World Marxist Review from 1977 to 1990.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Socialist Labour Party (UK, 1903)</span> Political party in the United Kingdom

The Socialist Labour Party was a socialist political party in the United Kingdom. It was established in 1903 as a splinter from the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) by James Connolly, Neil Maclean and SDF members impressed with the politics of the American socialist Daniel De Leon, a Marxist theoretician and leading figure of the Socialist Labor Party of America. After decades of existence as a tiny organisation, the group was finally disbanded in 1980.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">British Socialist Party</span> Political party in the United Kingdom

The British Socialist Party (BSP) was a Marxist political organisation established in Great Britain in 1911. Following a protracted period of factional struggle, in 1916 the party's anti-war forces gained decisive control of the party and saw the defection of its pro-war right wing. After the victory of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia at the end of 1917 and the termination of the First World War the following year, the BSP emerged as an explicitly revolutionary socialist organisation. It negotiated with other radical groups in an effort to establish a unified communist organisation, an effort which culminated in August 1920 with the establishment of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The youth organisation the Young Socialist League was affiliated with the party.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Communist Party of Great Britain</span> Communist party in the United Kingdom that existed from 1920 to 1991

The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was the largest communist organisation in Britain and was founded in 1920 through a merger of several smaller Marxist groups. Many miners joined the CPGB in the 1926 general strike. In 1930, the CPGB founded the Daily Worker. In 1936, members of the party were present at the Battle of Cable Street, helping organise resistance against the British Union of Fascists. In the Spanish Civil War the CPGB worked with the USSR to create the British Battalion of the International Brigades, which party activist Bill Alexander commanded.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fred Hammill</span>

Frederick Parkin Hammill was a British trade union activist, and a co-founder of the Independent Labour Party.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Industrial Workers of the World (South Africa)</span> South African trade union

The Industrial Workers of the World (South Africa) or IWW (SA) had a brief but notable history in the 1910s-20s, and is particularly noted for its influence on the syndicalist movement in southern Africa through its promotion of the IWW's principles of industrial unionism, solidarity, and direct action, as well as its role in the creation of organizations such as the Industrial Workers of Africa and the Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Leonard Hall (socialist)</span>

William Leonard Hall was a British trade union leader, journalist, and socialist activist, who held prominent positions in the Independent Labour Party.

Arthur George Field was a British trade unionist and socialist activist.


  1. 1 2 3 Mann, Tom (1988). Tom Mann's social and economic writings : a pre-Syndicalist selection. John Laurent. Nottingham: Spokesman. ISBN   0-85124-458-0. OCLC   17776138.
  2. "Thomas Mann family tree". Retrieved 16 November 2020.
  3. "History of Longford, in Coventry and Warwickshire | Map and description". Retrieved 16 November 2020.
  4. 1 2 South London record No. 4. London: South London History Workshop. 1989. pp. 31–35.
  5. Klugmann, James (1968). History of the Communist Party of Great Britain: Volume 1: Formation and Early Years, 1919–1924. London: Lawrence and Wishart. pp. 108–116.
  6. Kean, Hilda. (1998). Animal Rights: Political and Social Change in Britain Since 1800. Reaktion Books. p. 136. ISBN   1-86189-014-1
  7. Garner, Robert (2005). The Political Theory of Animal Rights. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 103. ISBN   0-7190-6710-3.
  8. Simkin, John (January 2020). "Tom Mann". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  9. "Bennett's benefit". The Times . 5 December 1990. p. 12.

Further reading

Party political offices
New office Secretary of the London Reform Union
Succeeded by
Preceded by General Secretary of the Independent Labour Party
Succeeded by
Trade union offices
Preceded by President of the Dock, Wharf,
Riverside and General Labourers' Union

Succeeded by
Thomas Merrells
New office President of the International Transport Workers' Federation
Succeeded by
Preceded by General Secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering Union
Succeeded by