Portrait unveiled of building workers legend

Trade union activists will be joined by family members and a representative of Liverpool City Council at the unveiling of a portrait of Leo McGree, a legend among Liverpool building workers on November 24th.

The ceremony will be held in Jack Jones House, the offices of Unite, at 1.30pm and marks the merger of UCATT, the building workers union, with Unite.

It also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the death of Leo McGree, born in 1900 and died in 1967. Leo was a leading figure in the National Unemployed Workers Movement in the inter war years and in the aftermath of the 1932 Birkenhead Unemployed Riots, was sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment, simply for speaking at meetings before the riots.

Leo was a Branch Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers, ASW, and was notorious on Liverpool building sites for his determination, courage and sense of humour. He became District President of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, a lifelong member of the Communist Party, he was banned from office at the height of the Cold War witch hunts.

“I’m delighted to be joining in the ceremony,” said Councillor Steve Munby, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods.

“We would never have been able to cope with the cuts as a City Council, without the support of the trade union movement. On a personal note, the ASW was the first trade union I joined at the age of 17. So I’m delighted to be honouring one of our most famous members. Leo was someone that all the building workers I’ve known referred to as an inspiration. I think he exemplifies a particular kind of Scouser – funny, determined, never giving in and always pressing on regardless. It’s great to see this portrait by Syd Booth, which has come from the UCATT office, going up in Jack Jones House.”

Also taking part in the ceremony is Carolyn Jones representing the North West Communist Party. She said: “My dad, Bill Jones, was a member of the ASW and the Communist Party, like Leo and he’d have loved to be here. To some people Leo may seem an interesting figure but part of our past with nothing to say for the future. They couldn’t be more wrong. We’re seeing a sea change in attitudes and after decades of retreat the trade unions are beginning to win back their rightful place at the centre of British life. Liverpool’s going through tough times today and like in the 30s we have a government grinding the faces of the poor.

“Leo McGree, a principled trade unionist, intransigent fighter and communist, is very much a figure for our times, not a throwback to a bygone era.”

Mick Whitley, retiring Regional Secretary of Unite said “I’m delighted that UCATT has joined the ranks of Unite, creating one trade union for building workers. It’s great to celebrate that with putting up a portrait of one of our finest sons. He should be an example to all our members.”