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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

The Red Buttons

review by Ben Soton

Red-Button Men: Red-Button Years: Volume 3 by Ken Fuller (2021). Independently published. Paperback: 365pp; RRP: £12.99. Kindle: 484pp; £5.99.

THIS IS the final instalment of Ken Fuller’s trilogy, now available on Amazon and Kindle.

Defending Democratic Korea! The ironically named novel sees the end of the London & Provincial Union of Licenced Transport Workers (LPU), known as the ‘Red Button Union’. In 1919 the LPU merged with the more moderate and less democratic Amalgamated Association of Tramway & Vehicle Workers, known as the Blue Button Union, to form the United Vehicle Workers (UVW).

The novel’s title is a reference to those activists who attempted to continue the militant and democratic traditions of the Red Button Union into the new organisation.

Once again Fuller introduces real historic figures such as Ernest Bevin, Sylvia Pankhurst and Theodore Rothstein, alongside fictional characters such as Mickey Rice.

Rice is the ultimate personification of a principled trade union activist, devoid of any opportunism, either from the right or left. This contrasts with both Sylvia Pankhurst and Ernest Bevin.

Pankhurst, a militant suffragette and socialist, formed her own party rivalling the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), and sided with the so-called left-communists who opposed Lenin’s New Economic Policy needed to re-build the Soviet Union in the aftermath of the Civil War. Bevin became a fervent anti-communist and the architect of the 1945 Labour government’s foreign policy based on subservience to US imperialism.

The book covers the period from 1919–1922. It includes the formation of the CPGB although, arguably, insufficient attention is given to this historically important event whilst perhaps too much attention is given to the actions of Ms Pankhurst.

Significant to the novel are the events of Black Friday 1921; a reference to 15th April 1921 when the infamous leader of the National Union of Railwaymen, JH Thomas, failed to come to the aid of the miners. Black Friday led to a series of setbacks with several unions, including the UVW, forced to accept wage restraint. This in turn led to demands for a breakaway union, the Trams Omnibuses & Tubes, known as the TOT union.

The novel goes into considerable detail regarding the finer points of negotiations between the UVW and the employers. On the one hand, this shows extensive research on the part of the author. On the other hand however, at times I wondered if this was not too detailed for what is after all a novel and not a reference book.

Unlike the earlier two novels, Love and Labour and Romance and Revolution there is less reference to the romantic adventures of the main character Mickey Rice, who is now happily married to Annette, the daughter of a leading Belgian Communist.

Ultimately, the UVW amalgamated with several other unions in 1922 to form the Transport & General Workers Union (TWWU), which in 2007 formed the basis of the general union Unite.

Red-Button Men is a fitting finale to both an informative and still readable set of novels.