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Peter Kerrigan

 

Peter Kerrigan (pictured left in 1975) was born 26th June 1899 in Hutchestown, Glasgow and educated at Hayfield School, Gorbals, and Elmvale School, Springburn. Apprenticed on the railways, until he joined the Royal Scots from 1918-1920, he was also, in his youth, a keen footballer, playing with Bridgeton Daverby, and boxer, becoming champion of his regiment. Kerrigan also had real experience of action in the First World War.

He joined the Communist Party in 1921, but remained active within the Scottish Labour Party for much of the 1920s. However, he was a member of the CC/EC of the Communist Party from 1927-9 and 1931-65, and was successively Scottish Secretary, National Organiser and Industrial Organiser of the Communist Party.

He first came to prominence as one of the leaders of the Glasgow strike committee in 1926. As an engineering turner by trade, Kerringan was able to become central in the Glasgow AEU just prior to the general strike. He had been elected vice-chair of the Trades Council in April 1925 but, during the general strike itself, was elevated to the role of Chair of the Glasgow strike committee, which secured for him a very substantial public profile.

It was during this period that Kerrigan meet another active Glasgow Trades Council delegate who would turn out to be his life partner. Rose Klasko (also spelt Klasgo) – see separate entry for Rose Kerrigan - and he married in 1926. In 1929 Kerrigan attended the Lenin school in Moscow and the following year began a lifetimes’ employment for the Communist Party.  He played a significant role in the Hunger Marches in Scotland 1932, 1934 and 1936. Kerrigan was at the very centre of the organisational work to secure the election of Willie Gallacher as Communist Member of Parliament for West Fife in November 1935. He was British representative at the Communist international (Comintern) for a period.

As for the Spanish war, Kerrigan was asked to take men secretly to Spain, via Paris, in December 1936. He had to ask his strong minded but revolutionary wife, Rose, for permission to go as she was expecting a baby. He came back in March 1937, shortly returning as the 'Daily Worker' correspondent and then becoming an International Brigade political commissar for the duration of the war, after Wally Tapsell was killed.

Rose has recounted the story of how Peter returned with prematurely white hair, which remained with him for the rest of his life, and suffered neurotic behaviour for several months after his return, which thankfully did not. 

He came back in March 1937, shortly returning as the 'Daily Worker' correspondent and then becoming an International Brigade political commissar for the duration of the war.

His wife, Rose, has recounted the story of how he returned with prematurely white hair, which remained with him for the rest of his life, and suffered neurotic behaviour for several months after his return, which thankfully did not.

Nonetheless, Spain was important to the couple. After Franco's death, Peter and Rose Kerrigan made a special effort to raise £15,000 to assist the underground Communist paper 'Mundo Obrera' to launch itself as a public forum.

 

Peter Kerrigan was elected to the Party’s Central Committee by the 15th Congress in 1938 and, with Rose, moved to London in 1939. However when Bill Cowe was called up into the forces, Peter and Rose returned to Scotland. Returning once again to London in 1943, Peter was made National Organiser, a position he held until the death of George Allison, when Kerrigan became National Industrial Organiser. He held this position from 1951 until 1965 becoming a legendary force in the post war labour movement.

According to Finlay Hart: “It was in this period of Peter’s career that he became well known in official trade union circles and among the rank and file activists. Even the most hostile anti-communist officials had a great respect for Peter’s political and economic judgement, as was demonstrated many a time when Peter sat at the press table as the correspondent for World News & Views.”

Writing in December 1951 edition of Communist Review on the General Election of that year, in which he was a Communist Party candidate, Kerrigan gave a flavour of such campaigning. "My own experience in the last ten days before polling day in Gorbals is interesting." His article continues: "Apart from factory gate meetings outside such important enterprises as Queen's Park Loco Works (at two different gates), Weir's, and Dixon's Iron Works, I was able to speak inside a number of enterprises either in the canteens or in the workshops. In the United Co-operative Baking Society canteen, where at least 200 men and women workers, including staff employees, heard our case. In Larkfield Bus Garage, in the Uniformed Staff Canteen, with eighty to ninety present. In two different workshops, where 200 and 150 engineering workers attended. In the Corporation Print Works canteen fifty were present (more than three times the number who listened to the Tory candidate in the same place); and in Coplawhill Car Works canteen I spoke to over 300 workers."

"In addition I spoke to a group of doctors, nurses and domestic workers on the staff in the lecture room of the Samaritan Hospital. All the other candidates were given similar facilities. The meetings varied in length from half an hour to fifty minutes maximum. My usual practice was fifteen minutes statement, then questions... There were, in my case, at a number of the meetings, small groups of Catholic workers with prepared sets of hostile questions."

"The attitude of the mass of the workers on the whole at these meetings was one of serious concern, and while it could not be described as generally supporting, was with one exception friendly. The exception was the Uniformed Staff Canteen meeting, where groups of Catholics deliberately tried to break up the meeting, not only by putting hostile questions and ones that were based on untruths, but interrupting the replies with comments that were just the repetition of falsehoods or slanders. Even here, however, the majority of the workers obviously resented the tactics employed."

Kerrigan eventually relinquished his national responsibilities and retired from the Communist Party’s national Executive Committee. However he never became inactive. He continued to sell the Morning Star, attend his party branch and trade union branch and was a constant visitor to Scotland in charge of overseas delegations

Jack Ashton, one-time Communist Party Scottish secretary stated: “Peter Kerrigan’s name is part of Scotland’s militant working class history along with those of Willie Gallaher, Bob Stewart, Aitken Ferguson, Abe Moffatt and many others.”

Kerrigan, as he was universally known to the Party's trade union cadres, was one of the pallbearers at Willie Gallacher's 1965 funeral in Paisley.

He himself died on Thursday 15th December 1977, in his 78th year

Peter Kerrigan’s published work features: The First British Company (of the International Brigades) December 1936 - January 1937’; Communist Party pamphlets: `The new stage of the war’ (1940), `Wages and income tax’ (1942), `The Communist Party’ (1944), `Why the slump? : a talk with Fred and Jock’ (1949), `We must have higher wages’ (1952), `More pay for engineers’ (1962), `The future of trade unionism’ (1963), `Harry Pollitt - a lifetime in the service of socialism’ (1970) Morning Star.