With the tragic death of Albert Grace on April 14 at Swindon at the age of 56, the anarcho-syndicalist movement has lost one of its longest serving propagandists in the industrial field. He died following an unsuccessful operation on December 20, 1967. His funeral and cremation took place on April 20 and was attended by a large number of fellow trades unionists from the Electrical Trades Union and other building unions.
He leaves a widow, Mrs. J. E. M. Grace, 37 Boscombe Road, Moredon, Swindon. Wilts., and several grown-up sons. His youngest son, Keith, is due to leave school in the summer. We extend to Mrs. Grace and her family our deepest sympathy in their bereavement.
Albert Grace was born on the South Side of the River Thames, London, and at an early age became a docker, working mainly in and around the cold stores. Due to ill-health he left the docks in the mid-1950’s and took up a second trade as a skilled electrician, first working in London and then as a result of constant victimisation, moved to the West Country where he worked in Bristol for a time and subsequently in various other parts of West and Southern England on various large contracting jobs. For a time he lived at Farnborough, near Bath, subsequently moving to Swindon, where he died.
He joined the anarcho-syndicalist movement in the late 1920’s as a young man and was actively associated with the late Mat Kavanagh and with McCartney in the unemployed movement.
He was also closely associated with Albert Meltzer in action in support of the CNT and FAI in Spain from 1936. He was also active in the production and distribution of The Syndicalist in 1952-53 and was a member of the committee which included Albert Meltzer and Philip Sansom and other militants. He was a regular supporter of the anarchist open-air platform at Hyde Park on Sundays and was ever ready to lend his help in any propaganda activities, particularly where this was conducted in the docks or in other industries, where he always felt the major anarcho-syndicalist propaganda and activity should be carried out.
The writer of this personal appreciation first met Albert Grace in the course of the series of dock workers’ strikes and militant struggles in the immediate postwar period 1945 to 1951. During this period Albert Grace was extremely active and was associated with the unofficial committees which came into existence. He was on close personal terms with such prominent militant dockers and stevedores as Bert Aylward, Fred Morel, Harry Constable and many others too numerous to mention. During this whole period he was a member of the white union, the T&GWU.
He played an outstanding part in the mass strike movement associated with the defence of the dockers put on trial at the Old Bailey at the beginning of the 1950’s and brought a contingent of dockers from his sector to the daily mass demonstrations outside the Old Bailey.
I have a vivid recollection of being rescued by Albert Grace in the course of having an ‘altercation’ with a mounted policeman. Thanks to Albert Grace’s quickness of thought and action on this occasion I was able to ‘escape’ uninjured.
A family man himself, Albert Grace was particularly solicitous for the welfare of the wives of the dockers on trial and every day that the trial lasted he and a group of dockers mounted guard over them in order to keep at bay the many ‘sob’ sisters and other reporters from Fleet Street who were assigned to get stories out of them.
Thanks to Albert Grace and his fellow workers, the Labour Government were forced to drop the charges against the dockers from Birkenhead, Liverpool and London who were on trial, and as a direct result of this daily strike and mass mobilisation of dockers and sympathetic workers from other industries, the wartime special legislation against strike action was also dropped.
Albert Grace was greatly respected by his fellow dockworkers and his prestige as the lone anarchist docker in London over many years brought many into sympathetic contact with the anarchist movement, whether they agreed with its philosophy or not.
Mike Walsh who worked very closely with Albert Grace in the electrical contracting industry in Bristol and the West Country warmly recollects the consistent militancy and the help and advice that he gave the up-and-coming generation of ‘sparks’ in the day to day struggle and his help in general propaganda activity.
He particularly recalls the activities of Albert Grace when he was the ‘sparks’ job steward, when a contracting company was installing the electrical work on the reactor core at Hinckley Point around 1960. During the course of long battles and bitterly fought negotiations with the management, Albert Grace was mainly responsible for achieving some of the highest pay and best working conditions on a major construction job.
All this intensive industrial activity in two major industries over a long period of time was often carried out, particularly in later years, despite constant ill-health. This handicap, however, did not prevent Albert Grace from playing a very full part in the militant activities of his class and with a cheerfulness that won him many close friends.
Like many working class militants, Albert Grace was shy of writing or speaking on general public propaganda platforms. He was not a ‘weekend’ anarchist but carried his anarchist propaganda and activity into his daily working life. He made many friends outside the anarchist movement among militant trade unionists and introduced them for the first time to anarchist papers and other publications.
Your movement has lost a very fine exponent of anarchism in action. I have lost a very great personal friend.
J. Thomas. [Joe Thomas]
1, The Transport and General Workers’ Union was known as the ‘White union’ because of the colour of the union card. See Waterfront Revolts: New York and London Dockworkers, 1946-61 by Colin John Davis.
Biography by Nick Heath (with photos) at: https://libcom.org/history/albert-grace-c1912-1968
From: Freedom 25 May 1968.
In KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 100-101, January 2020 [Double issue]