Monday, January 09, 2006

Cheetham Hill to Somerset levels, and still going strong

When I met Bridgwater postman Dave Chapple last year at the trades union councils conference in Liverpool, he asked over breakfast whether, being from Manchester, I knew Henry Suss.

I remembered the name from letters in the local press, and overheard conversations, though as I had to tell Dave, I more or less left Manchester in the early 1960s, and old and decrepit though I may seem, I'm not nearly as old as Henry. I knew a Cynthia Suss in Hightown who might have been his niece, we were in the same bunch of kids playing on a bit of waste ground called Marshall Croft, and later she joined Hashomer Hatzair. Which is all very fascinating, but not I suppose as interesting as the book which Dave Chapple has just produced with Henry Suss.

It is called "Henry Suss and the Jewish Working-Class of Manchester and Salford", and is Dave’s 90th birthday tribute to the remarkable Mancunian, now living at a home for the blind at Burnham on Sea.
Born the son of a Galician Jewish pedlar in 1915, Henry Suss was a clothing worker and active union man all his life.

Joining the socialist Theatre of Action as a teenager, he also took up the fight against Mosley's fascists in the 1930s, and campaigned for Aid to Spain during the Civil War. No less than 34 of his relatives in Europe were rounded up for the Nazi concentration camps. Henry spent five years in the British Army in World War II. Others sought new trades and openings after the army, but Henry returned to the clothing trade, becoming a well-respected activist in the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers right up to the 1980’s.

Having joined the Cheetham Hill Branch of the Communist Party in 1936, he remained a Party member for 50 years. In Pendlebury, near Salford, he campaigned on the issue of rents and slum housing so effectively that in 1964, notwithstanding the Cold War and disillusionment with Stalinism he was elected a Communist Party Councillor, and re-elected in 1967.

Paul Robeson, Harry Pollitt, miners' leaders Abe Moffat and Mick McGahey, and left Labour MP Frank Allaun are a few of the personalities Henry met in his long years of activity.

What's more, at an age when many of us have long hung up the gloves, and despite failing sight, Henry is still politically active, in the Sedgemoor Peace Group, which campaigns against the war in Iraq, the International Brigade Association, the Working Class Movement Library in Salford, and, a few years ago, led a fight to save his local Post Office at Burnham.

Because Dave’s book on Henry is written in dialogue form, the text is also the record of a friendship between two different generations of socialist activists.

By way of a footnote, I forwarded the info. about the book to a few friends, one of whom -another veteran of that gang on Marshall Croft, Hightown, incidentally - replied:

Hi Charlie,

Thanks for e-mail and best wishes for 2006.
I encountered Henry Suss in 1999 at Agecroft Jewish Cemetery. The occasion was the funeral of Joe Semp who had been his lifelong friend and fellow political activist.
In the presence of Reverend Olsberg Henry completely ignored the religious tradition and gave a moving tribute to Joe as Henry had known him: his work in the Party, the Union and CND. It's good to learn that Henry is still alive and well.


The book is a large-format A4 softback, 216 pages, with over 100 historic photographs, maps and illustrations. It can be obtained at the socialist price of £10 waged and £5 unwaged/part-time, plus £2 postage and packing, only from: E-mail:

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