Obituary: Jim McCallum

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The Independent Online
James McCallum, miner, born Carriden West Lothian 5 April 1936, Executive Member National Union of Miners Scottish Area 1972-84, married 1956 Cathy Maxwell (two sons, one daughter), died Bo'ness 15 October 1992.

'BIG JIM McCallum', as he was affectionately known throughout the Scottish coalfield and beyond, lived and died a Communist. From his father, a miner at the Carriden pit in West Lothian, McCallum inherited the tradition of Willie Gallagher and the Moffat Brothers, carried on in our own time by Mick McGahey and George Bolton. There was nothing Stalinist about them, and their rhetoric, fiery enough, was laced with delicate good humour and real wit.

Like successive mine managers at the Kinneil Colliery in Bo'ness on the Forth, I found McCallum to be straight-talking, honourable, and constructive over 21 years when the pit employed 800 miners in my constituency. It is witness to the trust placed in him that he was repeatedly elected by his fellow miners, few of whom were Communists themselves, and that when, in 1984, Kinneil finally closed, within three months of being transferred to Bogside Colliery, north of the Forth, he was elected Colliery Delegate at that pit.

My first clear memory of McCallum was at a Labour meeting, when the party invited two young Hungarian refugees who were staying with me in 1957 to speak. Most other people whom they had met praised them for their resistance to the Soviet Union. McCallum, acknowledging their bravery, and just 20 years of age, interrogated them as to whether they were really doing the right thing for Hungary. I do not know any Scot who put the Communist case more eloquently. Like many other 'political' miners, McCallum was widely read, and became impressively scholarly about Scottish working people's history.

Enormously active in the causes of the Broad Left, Anti-Apartheid, CND, British-USSR friendship groups, McCallum was one of the key organisers of the sustained campaign against the Vietnam war. At McCallum's well attended funeral, Mick McGahey, Vice- President of the National Union of Mineworkers during the Miners' Strike, told me that McCallum was 'one of the best strategists in the NUM'. He was chosen to represent the union at the fund-raising rallies in Finland, where he addressed 3,000 people in Helsinki, pleading for support for the British miners.

But McCallum's greatest contribution must have been to the mining communities in which he lived. Certainly he was a very political person, but also a very social person, excelling as a story-teller, who could be very funny indeed, reducing many of those who did not share his political opinions to gales of laughter. He was a prodigious letter-writer to the papers, and on behalf of many in the mining community, faced with officialdom. He was a talented cornet-player in colliery bands and an expert fly-fisherman.

McCallum was the epitome of the bonded comradeship of the miners, people who faced danger together, which prompted Harold Macmillan's dictum, 'In British politics, the Government is unwise to take on the Brigade of Guards, the Roman Catholic Church, or the National Union of Mineworkers.'

(Photograph omitted)