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The Scottish Labour College was founded in Glasgow in 1916 (by Glasgow socialist John Maclean and others) to provide independent working class Marxian education. There were many branches across Scotland and although Aberdeen Trades Union Council was invited to send delegates to the provisional meeting in 1916, it does not appear that happened. In December 1919 though after a visit by John Maclean, a branch was formed. The Chairman was Alfred Balfour (National Union of Railwaymen) and Secretary/Treasurer was William Morrison (Painters, who had been in the Socialist Labour Party and then the Aberdeen Communist Party). The first tutor was Joseph Payne, a Communist who remained until 1922, and then it was Aitken Ferguson, another Communist, who later stood twice in general elections in Aberdeen (in 1928/1929). There were constant concerns about the viability of the scheme and in 1924 Morrison reported that the Aberdeen branch was in trouble financially as it only had the support of 20 out of a 70 possible local trade union branches. The scheme did survive though and later tutors included Communist Bob Cooney. The Aberdeen & District branch remained active it would seem until the late 1940s.

There was also a Central Labour College in England which has been founded earlier in 1909. The College had been founded after a strike at Ruskin College, Oxford, when a group of Marxist students formed The Plebs League. In 1915 the College was officially recognised by the Trades’ Union Congress. In 1921 a National Council of Labour Colleges was created to co-ordinate the college network and the Scottish Labour College was absorbed. In 1964 the National Council merged with the Workers’ Educational Trade Union Committee to form the Trades’ Union Congress Education Department.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Party and Robert Cooney.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal.

Sources: unknown.

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A group mentioned in a press report about May Day in 1905. There were Marxian clubs in the rest of Britain around this time, often hosting speakers from the Social Democratic Federation.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal.

Sources: unknown.

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William Leslie was born in Elgin and his father Alexander was a shoemaker. Prior to World War One, from 1908 – 1913, he was a professional footballer playing for Elgin City and Manchester City. He was a carpenter by trade, later becoming an active trade unionist in the Elgin area.

During World War One he was a conscientious objector appearing before a Military Service Tribunal in July 1916. He left Elgin for Glasgow in September 1916, presumably driven out for his anti-militarist views and for not signing up for non-combatant work. He went to Glasgow in 1917, working in John Brown’s shipyard, and it is possible he was then imprisoned for ignoring the decision of the tribunal.

Leslie was a member of the Independent Labour Party, No-Conscription Fellowship, Socialist Labour Party (from September 1918 until September 1919) and then he was one of the founders of the Aberdeen Communist Group in September 1919. He was also actively involved in the ‘Hands of Russia’ campaign in Aberdeen, co-ordinated by Aberdeen Trades Council.

In July 1920 Leslie set off for Moscow, via Finland and Petrograd, as a stowaway and without a passport, to attend the Third Comintern Congress. He declared himself to be a British delegate of the British Communist Party, along with Sylvia Pankhurst. It is not clear though whether he was in fact an ‘official’ delegate, like Pankhurst.

He left to return to Scotland via Norway but was arrested and imprisoned. After a hunger strike, he made it back to Scotland, and in November 1920 spoke to an audience about his adventures at the Aberdeen Picturedrome.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Party and Socialist Labour Party.

References: Conscientious Objectors Register 1914 – 1918 at Imperial War Museum website, ‘Aberdeen Was More Red Than Glasgow: The Impact of the First World War and the Russian Revolution beyond Red Clydeside’ (William Kenefick, in Scotland and the Slavs: Cultures in Contact: 1500 – 2000 (Mark Cornwall & Murray Frames (eds.), Newtonville, 2001) and Red Scotland: The Rise and Fall of the Radical Left c.1872 – 1932 (William Kenefick, Edinburgh University Press, 2007).

Sources: Letters from Leslie are housed in Moscow in the Russian Centre for the Preservation and Study of Documents of Recent History.

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Dave Campbell was born in Aberdeen and worked at the Stoneywood Paper Mill in Dyce. He was Chairman of the Donside Paper Workers Union and led the Mugiemoss workers out on strike in the 1930s, with the consequence that he was blacklisted. He was then employed in the construction industry and became union officer in the Constructional Engineering Union. In 1946 he moved with his family to Birmingham and became a full time local organiser for the union.

He was an active member of Aberdeen Trades Council, specifically with the local Trade Union Organising Committee, which was set up by the Scottish Trades Union Congress in the 1930s, to build up union branches. He was also a local leader of hunger marches (to London in 1938) and Council Vice-President in 1938.

A life-long member of the Communist Party, he was a friend of fellow communist Bob Cooney, who stayed with him in Birmingham, and shared an interest in folk music.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Party.

References: Aberdeen Trades Union Council annual report 1989 and website of Graham Stevenson which features hundred of biographies of Communist Party members.

Sources: unknown.

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The roots of the organisation lay in the Second Congress of the Communist International (Comintern) in July 1920, which considered the formulation of a colonial policy, and included a debate between Lenin and Manabendra Nath Roy, founder of India’s Communist Party. In 1926 a League Against Colonial Oppression was formed, a precursor to the League Against Imperialism, which formed in 1927.

In Aberdeen a branch was formed following a meeting addressed by Glasgow based Communist Party member Helen Crawfurd and the branch Secretary was Bob Cooney, Communist Party organiser for north-east Scotland. The branch was initiated in response to and existed for the period of the Meerut Conspiracy Case (1929 – 1933), in which trade unionists were imprisoned for organising a strike in British ruled India.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Party.

References: see below. Also, Remembering the Spanish Civil War 1936 – 1939 (George Scott (ed.), Aberdeen Trades Council, 2nd edition, 2001).

Sources: papers of the international organisation held at the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam.

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A University of Aberdeen society which advertised in the Freshers’ magazines. The society was formed in 1961 but only lasted a year, and then does not appear in the magazines again, until the end of the decade.

There was also an active Aberdeen Communist Party and Young Communist League in the city.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Party.

References: University Freshers’ magazines.

Sources: unknown.

 

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Bob Cooney was born in Sunderland in 1908 but then his family moved back to Aberdeen and Bob was educated in Aberdeen. He became involved in the street politics and debates in the Castlegate in Aberdeen and became a communist and bitterly opposed to poverty. In 1930 Bob quit his current employment in order to devote himself full time to his politics. Between 1931-1932 he spent time in Russia, working at night and studying at the Lenin Institute by day. On his return to Aberdeen, and as Communist Party organiser for north-east Scotland, Bob threw himself fully into organising hunger marches (he went on two marches, in 1935 and 1936), mobilising the unemployed and spoke at open air meetings across the country. He was at the forefront of protests against fascism, which came to a head when the British Union of Fascists under William Chambers Hunter came to Aberdeen. There were running battles in the centre of Aberdeen and the fascists were beaten back. In 1937 he volunteered as part of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil war (along with 17 other Aberdonians, 5 of whom were ultimately killed), which he viewed as the front line against fascism. He was initially appointed as Commissar of a training group eventually rising to the position of Commissar of the XV (British) Brigade. He survived the Civil War and then served for the duration of WW2. He died in Aberdeen in 1984 after a life of activism.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Party.

References: information from Aberdeen City Council commemorative plaques database and Proud Journey: A Spanish Civil War Memoir (Bob Cooney, Marx Memorial Library and Workers School, 2015).

Sources: his songbooks which he used at the Aberdeen Trades Council in the c.1970s/1980s are held as part of the Trades Council papers at University of Aberdeen Library. Also the memoirs he created in 1944 and which were published in 2015 (see above) and oral history interviews he made in 1976 and available via the Imperial War Museum website.

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