Obituary – Jim Fleming
It is with sadness that Glasgow branch has to announce the death of James Fleming on January 30th at the age of 85. James – Jim to his friends – was born in Glasgow’s Rottenrow hospital on the second of September 1936. He lived with his parents in a one room rat-infested flat with an outside toilet shared with 17 other neighbours in the Maryhill district. He attended the local school where he excelled at art his favourite subject. He was also proficient enough to be selected for the school football team where, coincidentally, the goalkeeper was Dick Donnelly, a future comrade in the SPGB. Also in the team was Bertie Auld, who would achieve legendary football status as a member of the Celtic team which in 1967 was the first British club to win the European Cup. Rubbing shoulders with famous personalities would be a constant throughout Jim’s life.
Jim was introduced to politics at a young age by his parents who would take him along to the Glasgow Open Workers’ Forum where people of different political persuasions would participate in heated debates. One of Jim’s fondest memories was of his father straining to read Capital by the light of a candle. His father was an accomplished accordion player who would entertain their neighbours who would cram into their tiny home during air-raids.
As a railway employee, his father was tasked with overseeing a group of Italian prisoners of war put to work on the rail tracks, during which he would sneak them away to their home where Jim’s mother would share their meagre rations.
Jim’s first job at the age of 15 was in a hat shop in Glasgow’s Buchanan St where on one occasion he was instructed to accompany a customer to another hat shop to purchase a hat that was out of stock in Jim’s place of work. The customer was Maurice Chevalier. After the war Jim obtained work at Renfrew Airport as a warehouse boy where he worked really hard eventually attaining the position of Cargo Manager for Glasgow and Manchester airports. As a manager Jim was required in the event of an industrial dispute, to represent the employers as was the case when he found himself seated across the table from the shop steward who incredibly, was also an SPGB member, and who prior to the meeting had been coached by Jim about avoiding saying anything that could be interpreted as weakness. The union won the day.
Jim had innumerable flights during his 40 year career but undoubtedly the most memorable resulted from a last minute memo requiring representation at a meeting scheduled for later that day in New York which would be an impossibility by a conventional flight. His boss had other ideas and Jim found himself aboard Concorde arriving at the venue just as the meeting was about to commence.
After coming into contact with the SPGB he became a member in October 1961. A very capable speaker, Jim had an uncanny knack of exerting a calming influence on any belligerent member of the audience who took exception to being referred to as a wage slave. However, on one occasion when speaking in Paisley, his ability was ineffective with one man who threatened him with violence before departing and then reappearing, brandishing a discarded empty milk bottle which he smashed against a wall before rushing the platform, then realising that all he was holding was the neck of the bottle. He then bolted. Jim returned to Glasgow to meet up with the other members in the Horseshoe bar after they had concluded their meeting in Royal Exchange Square. He related the bottle tale which was met with much hilarity, including from the one non-member who had attended previous meetings and had been invited to join the members in the pub – Billy Connolly, who in a later album told a tale about being threatened by a drunk guy with a beer bottle which he smashed…
Jim was still active, attending branch meetings until Covid struck. Away from the Party, his main activities were golf, ballroom dancing, and walking, which he continued as long as he was physically able. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his children, Peter, Kirstyn and Karl.