Published by the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1961, Meet the Communists is a CPGB recruitment leaflet aimed squarely at railway workers.
The four-page leaflet is neither especially significant nor different to other materials being put out by the CPGB at this time; but it is a good example of the party’s recruiting pitch to workers in a key industry as it was entering a decade of crisis; and for many, its vision of railways ‘run as a service for the people as part of a unified transport system’ will continue to resonate today.
At the time the leaflet appeared, British Railways was at its post-war peak of activity. But behind the scenes all was not well; BR’s financial position was in decline and that same year the government brought in Dr Richard Beeching to review the rail network and to chair a new British Railways Board. His now notorious report led directly to the closure of thousands of miles of railways by 1970.
But it will have already have been clear to those working on the railways that all was not well. The National Union of Railwaymen had seen its membership fall from a high of 408,900 in 1945 to 369,400 in 1956; by 1966 it would stand at just 227,800. Meet the Communists warned that the ‘slimming’ of the railways which was then already government policy had led to insecurity and redundancies, with low wages forcing excessive overtime on British Railways’ ‘fed-up’ workforce
Meet the Communists was published as a personal message from Jock Nicolson, ‘himself a railway goods checker in London, and Communist Party prospective parliamentary candidate for St Pancras North’. Born in Lanarkshire in 1921, and a Communist from an early age, Nicolson had served as election agent to Willie Gallacher, MP for West Fife from 1935-1950 and subsequently president of the CPGB. Nicolson himself would stand unsuccessfully in three parliamentary elections, and remained a Communist until his death in 2007. An obituary appeared in the Camden New Journal.
Meanwhile, the image used on the front cover of Meet the Communists was already something of an anachronism at the time of its publication; steam trains were on their way out and would disappear from the rail network by the end of the decade. And the ambitious programme called for by Nicolson to ‘defeat the government plan to slash wages, eliminate services and close lines, stations, yards and depots’ remained a pipedream.
The full leaflet appears below. Click on any page for a larger image.
- The National Union of Railwaymen 1913-2013, online exhibition and image gallery at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick
- Archive records for the National Union of Railwaymen, Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick
- The archives of the Communist Party of Great Britain are held in the Labour History Study Centre at the People’s History Museum in Manchester