A short biography of anarchist docker and electrician Albert Grace
Albert Grace was born on the south side of the Thames in London and at an early age became a docker, working mainly in and around the cold stores. He entered the anarchist movement in the late 1920s working with Mat Kavanagh and with Wilf McCartney in the unemployed movement. Later on he worked with the young Albert Meltzer in support of the Spanish anarchist movement from 1936.
He left the docks in the mid-1950s, and took up a second trade as a skilled electrician, first working in London then as a result of constant victimisation, in the West Country where he worked in Bristol for a time., subsequently working in various other parts of west and southern England in various large contracting jobs.
For a time he lived at Farnborough, near Bath, and then finally moving to Swindon. In 1952-3 he was active in the production and distribution of The Syndicalist, an anarchist monthly aimed at industry which was edited by Philip Sansom and Albert Meltzer and others. He was a regular supporter of the anarchist platform at Hyde Park every Sunday and he was always ready to support any propaganda activities , particularly in the docks and other industries, where he felt that anarchist propaganda should be concentrated.
He was extremely active in the unofficial dockers’ committees involved in the dock strikes between 1945-1961. He was close friends with docker militants like Bert Aylward, Fred Morel, Harry Constable and probably knew Ernst Schneider. During this period he was a member of the Transport and General Workers Union. In an article written by Charlie Pottins on Communist Party surveillance of Trotskyist and anarchist militants there is mention of Dennis Goodwin, a CP organiser in the docks to Betty Matthews of the Party’s London District Committee in 1954 on one Brace (sic) “ associated for a considerable period with the Anarchists” and a member of Central No1 Branch of the ETU (Electrical Trades Union) . “ He is now said to be working in the docks having left the electrical industry and is in touch and probably working with Constable. He is said to have contact with our lads on the various contracting jobs when he was in the electrical work and was always prepared to have a go with us but always expressed a narking criticism of the Party” ( letter 18th June 1954).
With the arrest of seven Liverpool and London dockers on conspiracy to strike charges in 1951, Albert was heavily involved in the strike of 8,000 dockers in protest. He brought a contingent of dockers to demonstrations outside the Old Bailey on a daily basis. Eventually the seven were released . In 1967 he was involved in the short lived anarchist paper Ludd produced by Mike “Digger” Walsh with a run of several thousand during the dockers’ strike distributing it outside the docks in the early morning with Walsh and others. He was greatly respected by other dockers in London and was probably the lone anarchist docker.
Walsh worked closely with Albert in the electrical industry in Bristol and the West Country and warmly recollected “ the help and advice that he gave the up-and-coming generation of “sparks””. He particularly recalled when he was sparks job steward when a contracting company was installing electrical work in the reactor core at Hinckley Point around 1960. During long battles and bitter negotiations some of the highest pay and best working conditions on a major construction job were won.
He often worked and engaged in militant activities whilst in ill-health. Like many working class militants of the period he was shy of writing or speaking on general propaganda platforms, whilst being keen to distribute and support propaganda. He had many friends in the working class movement outside of the anarchist movement, and introduced many for the first time to anarchist papers and other publications.
A family man, he was the father of several sons, two of them, Peter and Michael, named after Kropotkin and Bakunin. He died on April 14th 1968 at the age of 56 in Swindon following an unsuccessful operation on December 20th, 1967. His cremation was attended by a large number of activists among electricians and other building workers.
Sources: Obituary by Joe Thomas in Freedom, May 25th 1968.
Lobster 96: http://www.8bitmode.com/rogerdog/lobster/lobster31.pdf
Photographs kindly provided by Angela Grace