The International Workers’ Mural that Eastbourne should not forget

The International Workers’ Mural that Eastbourne should not forget

At the time of its creation in 1922, the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) was the largest and most ambitious amalgamation brought about within trade unionism. Later, following various talks between unions a merger with Amicus was agreed and Unite the Union was created in 2007. Today in Eastbourne we have an active Trade Union Council and active members of Unite Community Eastbourne Group have been researching some of the town’s trade union history. Here is the story of the International Workers’ Mural that Eastbourne should not forget.

Jack Jones left school at 14 and after a few jobs joined his father as a Liverpool Docker. He became an active member of the Transport and General Workers Union, and later became the General Secretary of this union from 1968 until 1978. He was a great trade unionist, being converted to socialism by reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell, who wrote it in Hastings 1906 to 1910.  Jack once explained how that book “was passed from hand to hand among people in the Labour movement and had a remarkable effect on our thinking”.

Newhaven Fort, 7 December 2008 – Jack Jones (with son Mick) who served with the International Brigades fighting fascism in Spain at the ceremony dedicating the Brigaders memorial bench. It was 75 years to the day from when the British Battalion sailed back into Newhaven and then to a big welcome at Victoria Station. The bench is still there on the ramparts overlooking the harbour. The Guard of Honour is two members of La Columna SCW re-enactment group. Fittingly Jack Jones’s final appearance at a Spanish Civil War event.

In September 1974, the first stone was laid by Jack Jones for the TGWU’s new purpose-built convalescent, holiday and educational centre at Eastbourne. The Eastbourne Centre was then opened by Jack Jones in October 1976. This Centre was built for the purposes of a workers’ recuperation and holiday centre and a Conference Centre for the union. The Centre is now called The View Hotel. It is still owned by Unite the Union. The mezzanine level at The View shows some of the hotel’s union history.

The TGWU centre at Eastbourne

In the dining room of the Centre there used to be a full sized and very colourful mural by the Art Workers Co-operative – Michael [Mick] Jones, Christopher Robinson and Simon Barber. Mick Jones was the son of Jack Jones. The mural is an artistic tribute to international trade unionism and the importance of solidarity amongst workers.  For example, part of the mural illustrates “the union’s struggle through depression and war from which emerges a victorious procession with banners of the amalgamated unions. Support for the Spanish Republic in the 1930’s is shown by the inclusion of the graffiti, ‘SOLIDARITY WITH SPAIN’.”

The International Workers’ Mural in the Dining Room of the TGWU Eastbourne Centre

The mural was dismantled during the recent renovations of The View Hotel. It is being stored safely in boxes ready to be reassembled at a planned for new Unite the Union Conference Centre and Hotel in Birmingham.

Mick Jones at the Spanish Embassy 9 June 2009. Mick receives Jack Jones’s Spanish Passport from the Ambassador – Jack had applied but died in April.

Unite Community Eastbourne met with the Manager of The View, about ensuring the story of the mural is not lost from Eastbourne history. There is no picture of the mural on the mezzanine level. The suggestion of a full colour reproduction of the mural was not taken up as it would not fit in with the new colour scheme.  However, it was agreed that a pull-out brochure would be produced showing the mural in all its colourful glory. We are really looking forward to this brochure and will keep you updated on progress. The photo posted here shows a part of the mural that most likely was inspired by our Sussex coastline. Certainly one part of the mural shows the Beachy Head lighthouse.

NB The Eastbourne Trade Union Council and several of our local unions hold meetings at The View and make occasional use of the Conference Centre. (Unfortunately Unite had not negotiated for any discounts with the new management, an oversight that local trade unionists regret).

Carol Mills

Eastbourne Unite Community

[This post is part of a wider series of posts on Radical Eastbourne]

4 thoughts on “The International Workers’ Mural that Eastbourne should not forget

  1. Pingback: ‘Eastbourne’s Forgotten Mural’ – Bournefree Live – Latest news from Eastbourne, Polegate, Hailsham, Pevensey, Bexhill and Sussex.

  2. I am a member at Towner Gallery so shall ask them to seriously consider trying to keep this mural copy in the town.

  3. Very good. I always enjoyed my time at our Union hotel in Eastbourne. Is it possible to get an update on current position. It was great to have Jack Jones visit us regularly in Ireland. His legacy of shop floor power was what inspired me.
    Jimmy Kelly
    Former chair of our union.
    Former AGS and Irish Secretary of Unite.

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