Communist and trade union leader from Mountpottinger
Andy Barr was born in September 1913 at 29 Cluan Place, off the Mountpottinger Road, east Belfast. He started his working life as an apprentice sheet metalworker in Musgraves on the Albertbridge Road, joining the recently established Shorts aircraft works in 1938. He married Dorothy Adrain, a mill worker and shop steward at Ewarts Mill, in 1941. Barr was elected shop steward in 1942. In the same year he joined the Communist Party of Ireland.
Barr stated, ‘I was just known as a militant shop steward in Shorts. People came to me when they were selling literature and I would have brought it: Unity, Labour Monthly, Daily Worker... I was reading all that stuff and I was becoming really interested in politics and joined the Party’.
He was sacked in 1949 for holding a meeting of his members in Shorts during working hours. Another eight senior shop stewards were dismissed when they openly supported him. Then 10,000 workers in Shorts’ five factories stopped work and all the shop stewards, including Barr, were reinstated.
In the later 1950s, Andy Barr played a prominent role in reuniting a divided Irish trade union movement into the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. He also campaigned for recognition of the ICTU by the Stormont Government, ultimately conceded in 1964. Barr supported the civil rights movement and opposed the introduction of internment without trial. During the Ulster Workers’ Council stoppage of 1974, he led a march of a few hundred workers and activists through loyalist blockades into the Harland and Wolff shipyard.
In 1974, Barr was finally elected president of the ICTU, a position long denied by anti-Communists in the trade union hierarchy. On his election he said: ‘I think it is the highest honour that can be paid to any trade unionist. I have never sought honour from other than my own class—the working class.’
Barr remained active in retirement, campaigning on a range of local and international issues including opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq only a few weeks before his death in March 2003.
Andy Barr: An Undiminished Dream (2003) by F Devine.