Although his novels are more studied by academics now than by general readers, Jones occupies an honourable place in the history of left-wing politics in Britain, and in the ranks of socialist writers. Like many young activists of his generation he attended the Central Labour College in London from 1923-25, where he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain. During the 1926 General Strike he was imprisoned for three months in Swansea jail for his trade union activities in the Nottinghamshire coalfield. The means by which a South Wales miner ended up hundreds of miles away in Nottinghamshire during the strike, and whether he was on Communist Party or Miners Federation of Great Britain business merits further investigation.
Once back at the pits, he became Chairman and then checkweighman of the Cambrian Lodge of the South Wales Miners Federation. Although it may seem a lesser post to that of Lodge Chairman in a time of industrial unrest the checkweighman was a vital part of the miner's protection against employers using piece work rules to drive down wages, and it was a role in which Jones was likely to routinely come into conflict with management.
In 1929, he resigned, refusing to work with 'scab' (non-unionised) labour. He remained officially unemployed for the rest of his life, although, he was likely to be permanently busy on political business. He was extremely popular amongst the rank and file Party members, but his association with Hornerism (communists working within established trades unions), his turbulent private life and his distrust of the cult of personality (he was sent home from Russia for ignoring a standing ovation to Stalin) meant that he was repeatedly suspended and disciplined by the Party. As the Welsh organiser for the National Unemployed Workers Movement, widely regarded as a Communist Party front, he led the 1932, 1934 and 1936 Hunger Marches to London. Also in 1936, he was elected as one of the two Communist members on to the Glamorgan County Council. In South Wales at this time his attachment to the Communist Party would not have harmed his reputation as a political activist and leader.
Lewis Jones died on 27 January 1939 at the end of a day in which he addressed over 30 meetings in support of the republican side in the Spanish civil war.
His books remain a fascinating description of life in a Welsh mining community of their time; there is an awareness of the crisis of masculinity that mass unemployment brought home to those communities, and the description of workers in struggle with their employers is unflinching in its acknowledgement of defeat as well as victory.
On Lewis Jones: