Ann Flynn is a veteran of sixty years of socialist struggle. Brought up in Glasgow as a child, she describes the experiences which led her to socialism.
I come from a socialist background. My mother was a highland woman, a member of the Wee Free church. All the things that happened to highland immigrants to Glasgow changed her mind about the church and she left. Although I was free to attend the Gaelic-speaking church if I wanted I became an atheist at the age of eleven. My elder sister followed me out of the church—she was an influence too.
Two of my teachers at school were socialists. They were women teachers who had a great effect on me. I remember a discussion during an English lesson. One of them asked us what would we would call people who wanted to share out equally all the good things in life. Someone suggested that such an attitude would be Christian. The teacher said ‘No, that wouldn’t be quite the answer I’m looking for.’ So I put up my hand and said ‘Socialists!’ And she said ‘Yes’. A lot of early socialists in Glasgow were teachers, people like Maxton and McLean. So by eleven I was an atheist and a socialist.
Being reared in Glasgow was very important. My mother was a widow and had to take in lodgers. We would hear their conversations. Then my elder sister started work and met a socialist. She would come home full of the things they had talked about. It was a burgeoning time for a young person.
My mother was active in the first big Glasgow rent strikes. We were messengers for the strike and knew a lot of people in George’s Cross, where we lived. Our local co-operative was very involved.
I first joined the Labour Party in Hillhead. This was a rather respectable area of Glasgow and Hillhead Labour Party was a bit of a trial. Nevertheless, I stuck it out and stayed in the Labour Party for nearly ten years. Then I was out in the streets campaigning against the Means Test and taking part in the great rent battles which were coming up at the time.
I started reading Marx and became interested in the Communist Party. The CP had a splendid organisation of ‘street newspapers’. Members of the Party wrote newspapers on black tarmacadam taking up the width of the pavement. They were magnificent writers. The material would come from a publication called ‘Inprecor’ which an unlikely title for a pamphlet which was like a tiny compressed newspaper.
Then I met a marvellous woman called Ann Morrison who was leading the rent struggles. She had three children and lived in Partick. I was very impressed by the way she fought rent cases. So I was fortunate in being influenced by my mother, my sister and Ann Morrison.
So I joined the Communist Party, and enjoyed being in it. They encouraged us to read and learn and develop our attitudes towards Marxism. My differences with the Party began over arguments about cultural questions. I found that some of the CP members had arrogant and almost vicious attitudes to, for instance, worker’s theatre. Vincent (Vincent Flynn is Ann’s husband, ex-general secretary of SOGAT and an equally committed fighter for the cause of socialism) and I tried to start a socialist theatre group. We approached the CP about this and it was as if all hell had been let loose. We went ahead anyway and managed to build the foundations of Unity Theatre in Glasgow. Vincent was never in the CP, by the way; he came from a Catholic family and always said that one Pope was enough for him!
Then the war came. I came out of the CP finally over the question of Russia’s treatment of the Jews which I could neither understand nor defend. Vincent was a member of the Labour Party and I joined again. After the war we went to live in England and I was involved once again in housing struggles, as well as odd bits and pieces such as helping Greek refugees. There were terrible housing problems then. Property had been damaged everywhere. There weren’t enough houses for soldiers to come back to. The experience we already had of fighting rent battles was invaluable.
While I was working as a social worker I got involved with the Family Planning Association. At the time it was very difficult for single women to get contraceptives. When I first went to London in 1940 I was shocked to find that many women were using contraceptives that weren’t medically fitted—they just got them through the post! I was horrified and took myself to the nearest FPA clinic and picked the poorest area I could find to work in. This was just after my son was born and I left him with my mother two days a week while I worked for the FPA.
In the sixties I became finally disillusioned with the Labour Party, I couldn’t stand it any more. I joined the Socialist Workers Party, or International Socialists as it was called at the time. It felt a bit odd; I thought ‘here’s me, going to another party, but this one looks like what I’ve been searching for all my life’. It was lonely in a way, because the party was so small at that time, but the paper was marvellous. I’ve always, always felt Socialist Worker was something special. I hold Socialist Worker in the same regard as the paper which first helped to make me a socialist—that was the old Glasgow ‘Forward’. I’ve always recognised the same drive in Socialist Worker, because it’s a paper which tells about the workers, and believes in the workers, and has a goal for the workers. The paper’s what links people up all over the country.
My greatest achievement as a socialist? Probably raising a child who grew up to become a socialist. So many parents sicken their children with politics. Vincent has never given me anything other than support and encouragement. And that’s the way it should be.