Bert Ramelson

Bert Ramelson

Ramelson, in foreground
Born Baruch Rahmilevich Mendelson
22 March 1910
Cherkassy, Kiev Governorate, Russian Empire (now Ukraine)
Died 13 April 1994(1994-04-13) (aged 84)
Occupation Industrial organiser

Baruch Rahmilevich Mendelson (22 March 1910 – 13 April 1994), commonly known as Bert Ramelson, was an industrial organiser and politician for the Communist Party of Great Britain. He held the posts of National Industrial Organiser from 1965–77; and was editor and a member of editorial board of the World Marxist Review from 1977-90.

Early life

Ramelson was born the sixth of seven children of a Jewish family in Cherkassy, Russian Empire (now Ukraine), in 1910.[1] His father was a Talmudist scholar, whilst his mother ran a corner shop inherited from her father which the family lived in.[1]

His family emigrated to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in 1922 where his paternal uncle was a successful fur trader.[2] Ramelson won a scholarship to the University of Alberta, where he achieved First Class Honours in law and whilst studying was conscripted onto an officer training course.[2]

After completing his mandatory year in practice as an articled clerk and qualifying as a barrister, he left to join a kibbutz in Palestine although soon became disillusioned with this after Histadruth called a strike on an orange grove his kibbutz worked on demanding that the 50% Arab workers there were replaced by Jews.[3]


After briefly returning to Canada, he once again left the country to fight in the Spanish Civil War with the Canadian battalion of the International Brigades and was wounded twice on the Aragon and Ebro fronts. In 1939, he settled in Britain and for a short time was a trainee manager at Marks and Spencer.

During the Second World War, he was an NCO driver in the 7th Royal Tank Regiment and in 1942 was imprisoned by German forces after the capture of Tobruk. He organised an escape from an Italian prisoner of war camp after the Italian Armistice of September 1943 and fought with the Italian Resistance.[4] He was commissioned second lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in March 1945 and later became an acting staff captain (legal) in India. In 1983 Ramelson was interviewed about his war service by the Imperial War Museum. His interview is summarised at:


After the war, he became acting full-time secretary of the Leeds branch of the Communist Party. He held this post from 1946 to 1953 and encouraged political activism within the Yorkshire mining community, working with the National Union of Mineworkers, where he mentored a young Arthur Scargill. He stood as the Communist candidate in the Leeds South by-election in 1963, as well as the 1964 and 1966 General Elections consistently coming last in the 2-3% range.

National Industrial Organiser

In 1965, he was appointed National Industrial Organiser of the Communist Party and in 1966 during the seafarer's strike of 1966, he was one of a number of men accused by Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson of being part of "a tightly knit group of politically motivated men who, as the last General Election showed, utterly failed to secure acceptance of their views by the British electorate. Some of them are now saying very blatantly that they are more concerned with harming the nation than with getting the justice we all want to see".

During his time as National Organiser, Ramelson encouraged the party to forge links with other trade unions, such as the Transport and General Workers Union[5] and, with a range of organisers such as Jack Jones and Ken Gill, co-ordinated union resistance against the Wilson government. He opposed Barbara Castle's In Place of Strife, incomes policies and the Social Contract.

The tactics implemented by Ramelson mobilised militant trades unionists to organise within the labour movement. He opposed the 1971 Industrial Relations Act and fought for the release of the Pentonville Five. In 1972, organised flying pickets during the miner's strike. Throughout the 1970s, there was broad crossover between trade unionist and Communist Party members and in 1973, Ramelson said: "We have more influence now on the labour movement than at any time in the life of our party. The Communist Party can float an idea early in the year. It goes to trade union conferences as a resolution and it can become official Labour Party policy by the autumn. A few years ago we were on our own but not now."[6]

Personal life

He married his first wife Marion (died 1967) in 1939. Marion Ramelson wrote Petticoat Rebellion, a work about women's rights. He married Joan Smith in 1970.



  1. 1 2 Seifert, R. & Sibley, T. (2012) Revolutionary Communist At Work: A Political Biography of Bert Ramelson London: Lawrence & Wishart pg.23
  2. 1 2 Seifert, R. & Sibley, T. (2012) Revolutionary Communist At Work: A Political Biography of Bert Ramelson London: Lawrence & Wishart pg.27
  3. Seifert, R. & Sibley, T. (2012) Revolutionary Communist At Work: A Political Biography of Bert Ramelson London: Lawrence & Wishart pp.28-29
  4. Pattinson, Terry (15 April 1994). "Obituary: Bert Ramelson". The Independent. London. Retrieved 30 March 2011.
  5. Beckett, Andy (4 Feb 2010). When The Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies. Faber & Faber. p. 62. ISBN 0-571-22137-8.
  6. Callaghan, John (2004). "Industrial Militancy, 1945–79: The Failure of the British Road to Socialism?". Twentieth Century British History. Oxford: Oxford Journals. 15 (4): 388–409.

External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
Peter Kerrigan
National Industrial Organiser of the Communist Party of Great Britain
Succeeded by
Mick Costello
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