gathered today to celebrate the life of Andy Barr.
To say a last farewell to Andy and hopefully bring
a little comfort to his three children, Andy, Melita
and Rae and the wider family circle, the grandchildren
and Andy's Sisters.
Barr was born in 1913 at 29 Cluan Place off the Moutnpottinger
Road. He would have been 90 on the 23rd September
this year - a good innings - yes a valuable life -
but years spent in the service to others and in the
struggle defending, leading and representing working
class people. Andy started his working life as an
apprentice sheetmetalworkers in Musgraves on the Albertbridge
Road. He was apprenticed to Sam McCoubrey who became
the district secretary of the union.
his early days Andy was influenced by his Father's
Left Book Club publications and his discussions about
socialism with people like Sam McCoubrey.
left Musgraves when he got a job in Shorts, which
he described as a nice clean factory, in 1938. He
was elected as a Shop Steward in 1942 and Convenor
of Shop Stewards in 1946.
said I was just known as a militant Shop Steward in
Shorts. People came to me when they were selling literature
and I would have brought it: Unity, Labour Monthly,
Daily Worker....I was reading all that stuff and I
was becoming really interested in politics and joined
the Party. That was in 1942.
married Dorothy Adrain in 1941 - Dotsy as we all knew
her. She was active in the trade union movement too
as a mill worker at Ewarts Mill. She was a Shop Steward.
She would tell Andy about the strike meetings she
was involved in. He said, "They struck me more
like concert meetings." He said to Dotsy, "Look
you've got to stop all that singing at your union
meetings. Get them to talk about the issue."
can hear Dotsy telling him to catch himself on. She
used to slag him a bit got get him to lighten up which
wasn't too difficult because Andy had a good sense
of Dotsy Andy said: "She was a good solid working
class woman and never had aspirations to be other
than a working class person. As far as I'm concerned
any contribution I've been able to make to the movement
has been largely throughout her sacrifices. We had
a very good life together so we had."
Andy's contribution was massive. He was a Labour Movement
leader who was known the length and breadth of these
islands and beyond. He became Chairman of the District
Committee of his union in 1947. He was elected to
the Executive Committee in 1948. He was elected District
Secretary in 1953 and National President (Britain
and Ireland) in 1964.
was President of the CSEU in Northern Ireland from
1957 until he retired in 1978. He was elected to the
Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of
Trade Unions in 1954 and to ITUC Executive in 1956.
He was the first Communist on the European TUC where
he represented the ICTU.
Andy didn't just take up positions in the trade union
Movement. He was active defending and taking initiatives
on behalf of his members and the working class in
was sacked in 1949 for holding a meeting of his members
in Shorts during working hours. Then all eight senior
Shop Stewards were sacked for standing on a platform
to defend Andy Barr. 10,000 workers in Shorts' five
factories stopped work. There were great strike meetings
held in the Grosvenor Hall. MPs were lobbied. All
the Shop Stewards were re-instated.
was the cornerstone of the strong Trade Union Movement
that developed in Shorts and it was only because there
was a strong trade union movement that Shorts developed
to be the Jewel in the Crown of Northern Ireland's
manufacturing industry. On two occasions the unions
stopped Shorts from closing. On the first occasion
they stopped it being transferred back to Rochester
and on the second occasion they defeated the Government's
decision to close Shorts as recommended by the Plowden
Andy these experiences confirmed the necessity of
an independent Trade Union Movement. He was a bit
dismayed in later years about the union's unwillingness
to oppose wage freezes, redundancies and dismissals
of Shop Stewards. After he retired he refused to countenance
a wage freeze for the employees of Shorts Social Club.
He told the union reps on the Social Club management
board- just because you're accepting a wage freeze
don't think you'll impose one here.
Trade Union Movement in Ireland was divided between
1949 and 1959. ITUC and CITU. Andy Barr was on the
Executive of the ITUC-NIC from 1954-1956. He played
a prominent role in uniting the two bodies into the
Irish Congress of Trade Unions, along with such people
as Harold Binks, Billy Blease, Jack Magown, Billy
Leeburn and John McAteer .
was also at the centre of the campaign to achieve
recognition of the ICTU by the Stormont Government
which did not happen until 1964. Andy was proud of
these achievements, the NIC ICTU had become almost
an "extra parliamentary opposition" which
continues until the present time, but he had his reservations.
"We had to work very closely with Government
agencies and this had an impact on the NIC and led
to economist type thinking, support for all the training
that goes on etc., It blunts the edge of the struggle,
you know the class struggle so it does."
was always reassessing and looking for better ways
to progress working class interests. He wasn't an
economist, he promoted the Communist Party's policy
as contained in its 1962 programme. He advocated and
actively supported the ICTU's demands for democratic
and economic reform. He supported the Northern Ireland
Civil Rights Association. When politicians characterised
the Civil Rights Movement as a Communist/Republican
conspiracy Barr's analysis was:
don't think the Party received full recognition of
the part we played. We had many key people who devoted
themselves almost full time to it. The CP played a
very good role...One thing in particular we tried
to get the Trade Union Movement to affiliate to NICRA.
Of course we were not helped by some leftist elements
among the republicans. That didn't help us. Communists
were playing a very important role in the mass demonstrations,
the discussions that took place over the place, Communists
were involved in them all and tried to influence the
Civil rights Movement along sensible lines that could
be accepted by the Protestant population. That's who
we had to win to the Civil Rights struggle."
at the TUC Conference he said:
has never been any conflict of interests between Catholic
and Protestant workers in Ireland. There is no religious
war. There are no fanatical hoards of Irishmen murdering
each other for the privilege of worshipping God, being
restrained only by the benign hands of the British
security forces. And it goes without saying that there
is no honest broker who, if only the Irish savages
would listen would sort out the country's problems
to the benefit of the natives. But there are those
inside and outside the Government who exploit and
magnify every difference real or imaginary which emerges
within our divided community. The ICTU have consistently
fought for and defended the unity of our people. The
Trade Union Better Life for All programme can make
a reality of the words, 'We wish that our animosities
were buried with the bones of our ancestors and that
we could unite as citizens and claim the Rights of
Man.' To this Congress I commend the International
Labour Organisation motto, 'If you wish peace cultivate
believed all working class people were suffering injustice.
As President of the Confed he regularly convened Port
of Belfast Shop Steward meetings to co-ordinate campaigns,
including industrial pressure for wage increases,
shorter hours and better holidays.
had great faith in the common sense of working people
and would try his best to deliver what they aspired
to. He said you know workers are very tolerant if
you try your best. They know you're trying your best
and they'll be pleased even when you don't succeed.
Andy always tried his best.
were two events in Andy's life which occurred in 1974.
He was finally elected as President of the ICTU. A
position which an executive member would normally
have acheived by what was called "buggins turn."
But from 1956 every time "buggins turn"
was Andy Barr's then buggins turn was replaced to
ensure Andy wasn't President, the effects mainly of
the Cold War and hysterical anti-Communism.
eventually elected President he said:
think it is the highest honour that can be paid to
any trade unionist. I have never sought honour from
other than my own class - the working class. The radio
this morning referred to my politics. Throughout my
life I have fought sectarianism and discrimination."
second event was the Ulster Workers' Council stoppage.
It was a pretty terrifying experience. Despite workers
expressing through democratic meetings their opposition
to the stoppage, people were being forced out of work
by the threat of paramilitary violence. Andy and Jimmy
Graham convened a meeting in AEU House of Shop Stewards
in the Port of Belfast. Everyone spoke against the
stoppage. I was there. There was fear in the meeting
room. Andy proposed that we organise a march into
the Shipyard and that we invite Len Murray the General
Secretary of the TUC to attend. Credit where credit's
due, Len Murray turned up, but by that time the fear
in the streets was palpable. There was a couple of
hundred people I suppose. Andy recalled: "We
saw there was going to be difficulties but we said
let's start, small and all in numbers as we are. We'll
go through with it. And we marched through. I can
recall very clearly taking off my glasses as I knew
they were gonna be a liability and we formed up in
the front row."
Barr had the courage of a lion. The photographs of
the march back to work are still about the place and
are part of Labour History.
I became a trade union official Andy said to me, If
you're gonna do it right Joe it's a hard job. You
need two things, a level head a fire in your belly,
and the most important of the two is fire in your
belly which comes from belief in the cause of the
working class and their struggle for emancipation.
internment without trial was introduced of course
we were opposed to it, but Andy would try and do something.
He resigned from the Northern Ireland Economic Council
as a protest. He sent his resignation to Brian Faulkner
the NI Prime Minster and to the ICTU which he represented
on the NIEC, and he did more than that, he visited
many of his members who were interned and reported
those prison visits back into the union to try and
break down the prejudice that existed.
were many people who didn't agree with Andy Barr but
there were very few who didn't respect him. He was
opposed to violence which he knew could make no contribution
to the problems facing our people. He condemned the
campaigns of bombings and shootings.
Catholics were put out of the Shipyard he didn't just
sit and shake his head, he organised meetings of the
intimidated workers. He organised meetings of Shop
Stewards and their members in the Yard. He demanded
that management and government publicly take up an
attitude and successfully created the conditions for
a return to work in a safer environment.
was also opposed to industrial sectarianism. He said:
lads saw their future as being secure if they were
able to corner as much work as possible for their
particular craft union. I had some difficulty with
this, I saw clearly the reason that drove people to
fight around demarcation. The solution to this problem
was to fight for full employment for all people."
on the Irish Question Andy was equally clear:
can't be any future for Ireland except as a unified
country, a small island like ours. If there's one
think the Communist Party's done it always worked
hard to unite people. It's made a contribution to
uniting people. I think it has been correct and will
be proved right in the long run."
Andy retired as a Trade Union Official he continued
campaigning, lobbying for Pensioners, campaign for
Peace, Freedom in South Africa, support for Liberation
Struggles, Cuban Solidarity.
he found time to go swimming and ballroom dancing.
course Dotsy's death was a terrible blow, but he came
round and carried on . Regularly he would be involved
in public meetings in Corn Market in Belfast., and
appeared on television. The energy he had at 80 years
of age would have put most of us to shame.
later years he slowed up a good lot. There was physical
decline but his mind was as sharp as a razor. Sam
Warden used to pick him up regularly and take him
into Bangor. Andy would have a glass of stout and
a whiskey, maybe two, and a discussion about the latest
trade union and political developments, local, national
used to participate in those outings from time to
time. It was amazing how Andy never lost the ability
to try and learn lessons from life's experiences.
Sam was a very close friend, comrade and life time
supporter of Andy Barr. He died almost exactly a year
ago, which was another blow to Andy.
was participating in education classes in the Fold
where he lived in Bangor up until he died.
Bunting tells me that he received a cheque for £25
from Andy Barr a couple of weeks ago for the Stop
the War Coalition. Andy would regularly send cheques
to various causes, Help the Aged, various charities,
Third World causes, right up until he died.
was a strong supporter of the Soviet Union. He supported
Perestroika and Glasnost. Elated when the Soviet people
voted in referendum to continue on the Socialist path
and disappointed and saddened when the Soviet Union
was dismantled; the forecast that capitalism would
attempt to roll back the gains of people all over
said: "It hasn't led me to look for some alternative
for the world to the Communist way of life."
remained a Communist and in a letter he wrote to the
Guardian he stated:
"The lesson is not that this or that faith is
the right one and therefore will triumph. It is that
faiths and philosophies exist and will be fought for,
wherever conditions create a need for them. Faiths
which promise social justice will never die, so long
as social injustices prevail."
a short verse which is appropriate to Andy Barr:
dearest possession is life,
And since it is given to him to live but once
He must so live as to feel no torturing regrets
for years without purpose,
So live so as not to be seared with a cowardly and
So that dying he can say:
'All my life and all my strength was given to the
finest cause in the world,
The liberation of Mankind.
consider it an honour to make this small Tribute to
Andy Barr, working class activist, leader, teacher
- United Irishman.
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