By common consent Tom Mann was acclaimed as the greatest labour agitator and orator of his time.
"I first heard him speak on 25 August, 1928 at the opening of the 5th Conference of the National Minority Movement in London. I heard him many times later. When he and Harry Pollitt spoke at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, it was packed out. I took the Chair for him at a meeting at Pendleton Co-operative Hall on 30 May, 1933."
"I was delegated to attend his funeral in London on 17 March 1941 by the A.E.U. District Committee in Manchester. It was an experience never to be forgotten. The long and impressive parade through the streets and Ben Tillett's spell-binding oration left an abiding memory."
Eddie Frow - 1983
Tom Mann was born at Foleshill near Coventry on 15 April 1856. From 1856-1869 he worked on a colliery farm and in 1870 started an engineering apprenticeship in Birmingham.
He completed his apprenticeship in 1877 and moved to London to work. It was during his time in London that he joined the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and the Social Democratic Federation.
He also agitated for the eight hour day through the Eight Hour League - an organisation that he founded.
From 1887-1889 Tom was an organiser for the Social Democratic Federation in Bolton and Tyneside. Returning to London he led the Dockers' strike in 1889 along with Ben Tillett and John Burns.
Following the strike he was elected president of the Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers Union (commonly known as the Dockers' Union). He was also a member of the Royal Commission on Labour.
In 1894 he was a founding member of the Independent Labour Party and its first General Secretary. Then in 1896 he help found the International Transport Workers' Federation.
1901 saw Tom emigrate to Australia and on his return in 1910 he founded the Industrial Syndicalist Educational League and was president of the league until 1914.
Tom led the Liverpool transport workers' strike in 1911 and in 1912 he was convicted and sent to prison for publishing an article entitled an 'Open Letter to British Soldiers' - urging them to refuse to shoot at strikers (it was later reprinted as a leaflet, Don't Shoot). His prison sentence was quashed after public pressure.
In 1917, he joined the successor to the Social Democratic Federation, the British Socialist Party, which had affiliated to the Labour Party the previous year.
In 1919 Tom was elected as General Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers - a post he held until 1921. From 1924 to 1929 he was president of the National Minority Movement - an organisation with the aim of increasing communist influence throughout the trade unions. From 1932 until 1941 he lectured and addressed meetings across the country.
Tom Mann died on 13 March 1941.
Tom Mann, 1856-1941
"(Tom Mann's) knowledge and charm of manner are equal to his marvellous vitality. Moreover, of all the labour leaders I have ever met, Tom Mann is the one who, however successful he may be, puts on the least 'side'. After a speech has roused his audience to the highest pitch of almost hysterical enthusiasm, down Tom will step from the chair in the open air or from the platform in the hall, and take names for the branch or organisation - and sell literature to all and sundry as if he were the least-considered person at the gathering. Even those who differ most widely from him cannot but respect him, for he has assuredly gained nothing personally by his stupendous efforts."
H.M. Hyndman : Further Reminiscences (Page 464)
"It was here (at the County Forum) that I first heard Tom Mann . I have never heard anyone like him. Fire, vehemence, passion, humour, drama and crashing excitement. There has never been anyone to equal him. His personality was like a human dynamo. Everything gave way before the tremendous torrents of oratory he let loose upon his audiences. He spoke with terrific rapidity, yet every word was as clear as a bell. It is difficult to believe that anyone interrupted him. He swept over the crowds like a whirlwind; his mastery of the art of oratory was superb. He was a natural actor suiting, (as Shakespeare has directed) the action to the word, the word to the action.
"He never repeated an effect, never laboured; did not lean with too heavy a hand. Nor, in spite of the vehemence of his manner, did he overstep the modesty of nature. In the very heat and tempest of his passion, he begat a temperance which gave it smoothness. Tom Mann is unique, among all the speakers of the revolutionary school in the fact.... that he will have nothing to do, either publically or privately with personal abuse of anyone, friend or foe. "
Bonar Thompson : Hyde Park Orator (Page 88/89)
Related Object of the Month
November 2014: 1935 Daily Worker Bazaar Menu
Resources about Tom Mann in the Library collection
The library holds a collection of books and pamphlets by Tom Mann, along with a number of journals that he edited. We also have an archive of material by and about Tom Mann.