Gerry’s life as an SWP member and socialist activist can be divided into three stages. In the first he came of age politically in the heady and turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s. He then survived the hard years as a trade unionist in the declining car industry of the 1980s and 1990s. Finally, this “Coventry kid” found a new outlet for his energy, enthusiasm and activism in rural Northumberland.
A car worker at the Chrysler (later Peugeot) engine factory, he joined the International Socialists (IS)—the forerunner of the SWP—became a Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) shop steward, and was part of the network that wrote for and sold the rank-and-file paper Carworker.
A flavour of the political battles within the shop stewards’ movement at the Chrysler factories in Coventry can be found in a study of three strikes in 1972–73 in International Socialism 64 (1973). One of these was against the victimisation of the leading IS member at Gerry’s factory.
During the long 1975 wage strike at the factory, his then wife Carmel, with his baby son Carl, was part of a picket line of strikers’ wives against a counter-picket of other wives attempting to get the strikers back to work.
Gerry became TGWU deputy convenor in the late 1970s. In 1980 when his factory went on short-time at less than one day per week (five working days in six weeks) he helped sustain union organisation, including through involvement on a welfare rights committee.
In the 1980s as the factory ran down he was transferred to the track at Peugeot’s nearby Ryton assembly plant. He used his influence and reputation to support other stewards as shop-floor organisation was rebuilt after its collapse in the early 1980s. In the meantime many foremen were the butt of Gerry’s wicked sense of humour.
This work paid off with a successful strike at the warehouse, with Gerry’s experience crucial in organising the picketing.
Outside work, he was heavily involved in running boys’ football teams and later studied for a part-time degree at Warwick University.
Gerry moved to north Northumberland in 2001, eventually working for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB). After retirement he worked for the CAB one day a week in remote rural areas. Among his jobs was writing letters to powerful employers, pointing out where they were in breach of the law.
Gerry became a well-known figure in local communities. He brought to local Stop the War and anti-fascist campaigning his years of organising experience.
But his main achievement in Northumberland has been his work with the Berwick Migrant Support Group, which he founded and for many years was its driving force. This is a truly internationalist project, providing free English classes and much more. Gerry also saw the importance of training community mentors and specialist support volunteers in different languages.
Social gatherings, where different foods and cultures are showcased, and days out, especially learning about the local area, are integral to the success of the group. One of the annual highlights is the trip to the Edinburgh Festival. Gerry was there again this August, checking the coach had left the depot on time, but unable to do much walking himself in Edinburgh.
All through his life, Gerry disarmed his opponents by his personable and friendly manner. He was the living embodiment of Marx’s dictum that the emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class – through his organising work, his encouragement of others and his indomitable spirit, whatever the circumstances.
Gerry Jones was a lovely man and great fun to be with. His death is a serious loss to the movement.
Our sympathies are with his son Carl, daughter Kelly, his grandchildren, other members of his close family, and his many friends and comrades.
Gerry's funeral is on Saturday 5 November, 10.30am, Houndwood Crematorium, near Eyemouth, Scotland, TD14 5TP. Afterwards at Berwick YHA, Dewar’s Lane, off Bridge St, Berwick-upon-Tweed TD15 1HJ.