Williams, David James

First name/s: David James
Last name: Williams
Known names / nicknames: D.J.
Date of birth: 03/02/1897
Year of birth: 1897

Life before Ruskin

Date and place of birth: 3rd February 1897, Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen, near Ammanford, South Wales.

Family: Father Morgan Williams, a miner; Mother Margaretta, née Jones – occupation unknown.

School: Waun Board School, until age 13. Reached Standard VI – which allowed him to leave a year before the normal age of 14.
Other education pre-Ruskin Central Labour College 1919-1921, funded by South Wales Miners Federation

Work: Miner

Politics/Trade union activity: Socialist Labour Party – the party of James Connolly and J.T. Murphy – 1917. Chairman of Miners’ Lodge, 1918. Active in SLP for several years.

Trade Union membership (at time of entry to Ruskin) ~ other Trade Union

Life at Ruskin

Dates at Ruskin: 1923-24

Source of funding: Club and Institute Union scholarship

Campaigns/political activity: Joined ILP while at Ruskin. Became Propaganda Secretary of Oxford Branch.

Subjects studied at Ruskin: not known

Dissertation: not known. but Williams published in 1924 Capitalist Combination in the Coal Industry.(Labour Publishing Company)

Qualification: not known

Life after Ruskin

Education: none known

Work: 1925-1931 Tutor, National Council of Labour Colleges in Scotland – including classes in Fife, Clackmannan, Stirling, Perth, Dundee and Aberdeen. 1931-1945 Miner – Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen. Checkweighman and lodge secretary.

Politics/trade union activity: In 1926, Williams was secretary of the Fife, Kinross and Clackmannan Council of Action, during the General Strike. 1931 Elected to Pontardawe Rural District Council, as a Labour Party candidate. Remained a member until 1945. Chairman 1938-39. Served on several committees of the SWMF. Secretary of GCG Joint Lodges Committee in the 1930s and in 1937-38 Chairman of the Anthracite Combine Committee (the 34 pits forming the western part of the South Wales Coalfield.) In his capacity as Combine Committee Chairman he called on the British trade union movement to ‘take action on behalf of Spain’ (Francis and Smith 1980) . Elected as MP for Neath in 1945 by-election. Opposed by Trotskyist ‘Revolutionary Communist Party’, allegedly described by Williams as ‘fascist’. Labour MP 1945-1964, sponsored by the miners union. Supported broadly left-wing positions: critical of management-dominated nationalisation; opposed to conscription and German rearmament; opposed nuclear weapons, though not a member of CND.

Family: Married Janet Scott Alexander (Alloa) in 1939. No children.
Place & date of death: Llandudno 12th September 1972

Date of death: 12/09/1972
Year of death: 1972

Achievements / Publications

Williams made significant contributions to debates on working-class organisation, and working-class education.
Williams’ work on capitalist combination is quoted by Hywel Francis, in an article on conflict in the anthracite coalfield – ‘The Anthracite Strike and the Disturbances of 1925’ Llafur1 (2). Williams wrote “The growth of these powerful Combines effects a complete revolution in the relations of capital and labour in the coal industry. Time was when the colliery worker knew his employer personally. In those days, it was the custom of the owner himself to come round the faces to consider allowances, prices, special job rates, and to meet in person the workers end their representatives. Such is not the case now. The old relations of persons have given way to the new relation of things. The Combine is a vast machine, and the worker is merely a cog in it. He does not know his employers; probably he has never seen them. But the struggle between labour and capital still goes on, only it is now fought in a more intensive form. It is now a struggle between workers – through their organization – and the vast unit known as the Capitalist Combine.”
There is a link to Francis’s article here http://www.terrynorm.ic24.net/anthracite%20strike%2025%20francis.htm
In their history of the South Wales Miners, The Fed, Hywel Francis and Dai Smith emphasise that Williams’ work was not simply an economic analysis: it formed the basis for the argument that union organisation must transform itself to deal effectively with capitalist combination. Lodges must come together to form their own combine committees. For Williams, the combine committees were essential for the defence of miners’ interests. But they were also something more: ‘In so far as combines are the logical outcome of the development of economic forces, it is utopian to try to abolish them and reactionary to present their formation. The problem for organised labour is not to dissolve the Combines, but to wrest them from private control.’ (Williams, quoted in Francis and Smith p.87).
Williams not only criticised the antiquated organisation of the SWMF. He also attacked the content of the economics syllabus of the Central Labour College, which he saw as fixated on the first ten chapters of Capital:
‘Since the war a revolution has taken place in the economics of British capitalism-the growth of combines, concentration, finance, wages, industrial conditions, etc. it is from these that we have to gather material for our economic studies and not from the pages of the sages of the nineteenth century.’ (Williams 1924, quoted in Lewis 1985)

Material in archives or already published articles

Archive material in Swansea University LIS Archive http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb217-swcc:mnc/pp/30
See also the entry for Williams in the Dictionary of Labour Biography, Vol.IV (1975), and the references to his work in Francis and Smith (1980/1998) The Fed: a history of the South Wales Miners in the Twentieth Century Cardiff, University of Wales Press; and in Lewis, R. (1984) ‘The Central Labour College: its decline and fall 1919-1929’ Welsh History Review 12 (2) http://welshjournals.llgc.org.uk/browse/listarticles/llgc-id:1073091/llgc-id:1078923. For a brief account of the 1945 Neath by-election see Jim Higgins (1963) ‘Ten Years for the Locust: British Trotskyism 1938-1948’ International Socialism 14 http://www.marxists.org/archive/higgins/1963/xx/10years.htm#n23


Notes on Image/s

Comment of contributor/s and sources

I am pleased to note that one of D.J. Williams’ successors as Chair of Pontardawe Rural District Council was my great-uncle Ferdinand (Ferdie) Williams.

Sources – Dictionary of Labour Biography; Smith and Francis (1980) ‘The Fed’; Lewis (1985) Welsh History Review.


Ken Jones

created 14/11/2013 at 6:17 pm, updated 15/11/2013 at 12:41 pm

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