Will Paynter

Scope and Content

Correspondence and related papers primarly relating to the activities of the Spanish Democrats Defence Committee 1972-1975 and the Movement for Solidarity with Workers of Spain 1975-1976; press-cuttings relating to Spanish justice 1973-1974; political pamphlets 1973; information bulletins produced by the Exterior Delegation of the Workers Commission of Spain 1975-1977; miscellaneous pamphlets and ephemera concerning Spain, undated (c1977); typescript of an unpublished work for teenagers by Will Paynter 1971.

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas (William) Paynter was born 1903 at Whitchurch, Cardiff. During his life he was more commonly known as 'Will' or 'Bill' Paynter. His father was a farm labourer who later became a coal miner in the Rhondda. Will Paynter was educated at Whitchurch (Cardiff) and Porth Elementary Schools, leaving school aged 13 in order to work on a farm. He married twice, once in 1937 and again in 1943, having in total 7 children, all sons, including two sets of twins.

In 1917 Will Paynter began work at the Coedely colliery as a collier. It was in the pit that he first became interested in politics, at a time which was witnessing the growing political and trade-union consciousness of the Rhondda. After the general Strike of 1926 Will began to take full advantage of the local Workmen's Institute libraries in the Rhondda for study and he was introduced to Marxism. Will Paynter was elected Checkweigher at Cymmer Colliery in 1929.

Will Paynter joined the Communist Party during the Parliamentary election campaign in 1929 in support of Arthur Horner in Rhondda East and this saw the start of a close life-long association between the two men. Will was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and one of its organisers in South Wales at the time. For five years until 1936, he was a full time activist for the Communst Party and the National Unemployed Workers' Movement. In 1931 he was victimised and then imprisoned for his trade-union and political activities and was expelled from the Cymmer Lodge for supporting a Communist Party candidate in the local election. Will studied for a time at the Lenin School in Moscow and was involved in underground activities in Nazi Germany, assisting the escape of Communists and Socialists. When returning from Moscow in the early 1930s he was a Marxist tutor for the National Council of Labour Colleges (NCLC) classes in the Rhondda.

Will Paynter led three major Hunger Marches, in 1931, 1932 and 1936. On the 1932 March he was Treasurer of the South Wales contingent and in 1936 he was one on the leaders of the South Wales contingent democratically elected at Cardiff by the Marchers.

In 1936 Will Paynter was elected onto the rank and file Executive Council for the South Wales Miners' Federation (SWMF) for the Rhondda. He was sent into Bedlinog to help with the campaign to break up the scab union at Taff Merthyr. However in the Spring of 1937 he was given official sanction from the SWMF to join the British Battalion of the International Brigades (helping the Spanish people defend their new democracy) as a political commissor.

The South Wales District of the Communist Party had been asked to choose someone suitable for the positon of political commissar, someone who would deal with any problems and look after the British Battalion's interests at the International Brigades' Headquarters at Albacete. He would sort out any existing problems in the leadership of the Battalion and make recommendations for re-organisation. Will was felt to fit the bill because of his trade-union and political background, but he was not over-enthusiastic at the honour as he had only recently married. He went to Spain alongside Ted Bramley of the London District of the Communist Party of Great Britain in May 1937. He met with the leading comrades of the brigades and made suggestions for improvements and an urgent appeal for new volunteers for the Battalion in September 1937. He was then released from his duties in Spain in order to return home to defend his position on the SWMF Executive Committee.

Will Paynter was elected agent in the Rhymney Valley 1939. He was President of the South Wales miners 1951-1959. In 1959 Will Paynter was elected as General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, a positon he held until 1968. He and his family moved to London to take up the post. He was a member of the General Council of the TUC for one year. and a member on the Arbitration Panel for the Advisory Arbitration and Conciliation Service (formerly the TUC-CBI Conciliation panel) since 1972. He was an active member of many societies and campaigns including the International Brigade Association, Chile Solidarity, the Pensioners' Movement (he was Secretary of the London Joint Council for Senior Citizens and Chairman of the London Region, National Federation of Pension Associations, the Peace Movement, Llafur (the Welsh Labour History Society), the Wales Congress in Support of Mining Communities. He left the Communist Party shortly before joining the Commission on Industrial Relations in 1969 but rejoined in 1977 after he had been the main organiser of solidarity in Britain for the clandestine Spanish trade unions.

Will Paynter officially retired in 1968 but continued to be active in the organisations mentioned above. In 1970 his influential book 'Trade Unions and the Problems of Change' was published. He also wrote an autobiography entitled 'My Generation' published in 1972. He was a member of the Commission on Industrial Relations 1969-1970 but resigned once it had become a way of attacking the trade union movement. He was President of Llafur, the Welsh Labour History Society and was greatly involved with the workers' education movement, frequently lecturing at schools and conferences and helping in the development of the South Wales Miners' Library at the Swansea University. Will Paynter died aged 81 in 1984.

SOURCES: Francis, Hywel, 'Tribute to Will Paynter (1903-1984) , Llafur IV, 2 (1985) pp.4-9; Who Was Who 1981-1990; Francis, Hywel and Smith, David, 'The Fed. A History of the South Wales Miners in the Twentieth Century', Lawrence and Wishart Ltd. London 1980; Francis, Hywel, 'Miners Against Fascism: Wales and the Spanish Civil War' Lawrence and Wishart Ltd. London 1984.

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