Interview with Hugh Scanlon

President of the Amalgamated Engineering Union

Could you tell us about your political formation and what has made you a militant trade unionist?

Isuppose one of the most formative influences on me in my youth was my grandfather, who was a good socialist and an active worker in the Labour Party and Co-op movement. From the beginning I always had his guidance. I was born in Australia in 1913, my parents having emigrated there, but shortly after my birth my father died and my mother came back to live with her parents. My grandfather, who was a semi-skilled worker in a soap works—as was my mother—gave me books to read, especially all of Jack London’s. These made a terrific impression on me. Then, of course, I read Upton Sinclair and other utopian socialist writers like that, as well as semi-fictional books. This was the type of writing that impressed me rather than any high-sounding theoretical study of socialism.

I left school at 14, to start an apprenticeship as an instrument maker at Metro-Vickers, now part of aei. There I came into contact with shop stewards who impressed me greatly, and I was proposed into the union by one of them, Ben Gardner, who later became General Secretary. Another steward was also a tutor of the nclc, and he got me to attend classes in elementary and advanced economics, industrial psychology and a number of other subjects. But the real driving force to militancy came with the Spanish Civil War. Being an engineer it was felt that, rather than going to Spain, I should concentrate mainly on repairing and overhauling vehicles for the Spanish government. I joined the Communist party at about this time, and remained in the party until the mid-’fifties when I left because of numerous political differences.