First name/s: James
Last name: Walker
Known names / nicknames:
Date of birth: 12/05/1883
Year of birth: 1883
Life before Ruskin
Date and place of birth: 12 May 1883, at 817 Great Eastern Road, Parkhead, Glasgow.
Family: Son of John Walker, a steel smelter, and his wife, Jane (Jeanie), née Harwood.
Work: Initially working on a farm after school, Walker then became a steel smelter’s apprentice.
Politics/trade union activity: In 1902, Walker enrolled in the Glasgow Social Democratic Federation’s class on Marxist economics. From 1904, he was a member of the British Steel Smelters’ Association, and became a member of the Independent Labour Party in that year.
Trade Union membership (at time of entry to Ruskin) ~ other Trade Union
Life at Ruskin
Dates at Ruskin: 1906–1907
Source of funding: British Steel Smelters’ Association scholarship
Campaigns/political activity: Unknown
Subjects studied at Ruskin: Unknown
Life after Ruskin
Politics/trade union activity: From 1912 to 1929 Walker sat on Glasgow city council. He was prominent in the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) throughout the 1920s, sitting on its parliamentary committee/general council, and was the STUC president in 1921. Sponsored by his union (now called the British Iron, Steel, and Kindred Trades Association), he contested Rotherham unsuccessfully in the general elections of 1918 and 1922; he was finally elected at Newport, Monmouthshire, in 1929, and held this seat until 1931. In 1932, he was elected to the trade union section of the Labour Party’s national executive committee (NEC). Here he helped define the party’s proposals for public ownership of the iron and steel industry, incorporated into the policy document For Socialism and Peace (1934). Walker returned to parliament as MP for Motherwell (a Scottish steel making centre) in November 1935. In the Labour Party and on the NEC, he took a firm line in favour of rearmament, often working closely with Hugh Dalton. From 1937, he was a member of the Labour Party’s NEC international subcommittee. He was regarded by some as a strict disciplinarian and by others as a man with ‘common sense and remorseless logic pitted against loose thinking and sentimentality’ (David Howell in the Oxford DNB). He opposed calls for a ‘popular front’ with the Communist Party such as those made by the Socialist League in 1937 around issue of the Spanish Civil War, and regarded the entire German nation as culpable for the rise of Nazism (alienating him from German emigré social democrats). At some point in this period, he set up the Fight for Freedom Editorial and Publishing Service, which produced books and pamplets along these lines.
Family: He married Ada (b. 1886/1887) on 5 January 1910; she worked as a sewing machinist. They had a daughter (who predeceased him) and a son (who became a solicitor specializing in trade union issues).
Place and date of death: Walker died at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton, of injuries sustained after being knocked down by a lorry, which he was too blind to see (his eyesight had been deteriorating since the late 1930s), near his home in Saltdean.
Date of death: 05/01/1945
Year of death: 1945
Achievements / Publications
Walker contributed to the Labour Party programme, For Socialism and Peace, 1934, which committed the party to nationalisation of land, banking, coal, iron and steel, transport, power and water supply, as well as the setting up of a national investment board to plan industrial development.
See also publications by the Fight for Freedom Editorial and Publishing Service (for an example, see Fight for Freedom … What Is It? (circa 1943) http://www.europeana.eu/portal/record/2022022/77FA4724331AD242D114FFFC5D30CA3930FF05E9.html)
Material in archives or already published articles
Notes on Image/s
Comment of contributor/s and sources
Howell D. (2006), ‘Walker, James (1883–1945)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, available at http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/61331 [accessed 23 November 2013].
Please note that Walker’s initial union, the British Steel Smelters, Mill, Iron and Tinplate Workers, amalgamated with some of the other steel workers’ unions on 1 January 1917 to become the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation (ISTC); other steel unions joined them in 1920 and 1921. Later mergers include the National League of the Blind and Disabled (NLBD) in 1999 and the Power Loom Carpet Weavers and Textile Workers Union (PLCWTWU) in 2000. Steel workers in the UK are now part of the federated trade union Community.