James (Jack) Jones, the son of a docker, was born in Liverpool in 1913. His father named him in honour of James Larkin. The family were very poor and after leaving school at fourteen he worked as an engineering apprentice.
After the Wall Street Crash Jones lost his job but was eventually able to find employment with a firm of signmakers and painters. Later he joined his father as a Liverpool docker. He became a member of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) and was elected as a shop steward and was a delegate on the National Docks Group Committee.
Converted to socialism by reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell. Jones later explained how the book "was passed from hand to hand among people in the Labour movement and had a remarkable effect on our thinking." In 1931 Jones became secretary of the Liverpool Labour College and used extracts from books by authors such as Tressell, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, G. H. Wells, James Connolly, Robert Blatchford to educate young people.
A strong opponent of Oswald Mosley and the National Union of Fascists, Jones organized protest-meetings against the fascists holding meetings in Liverpool. On one occasion he was beaten up by a group of Blackshirts armed with knuckle-dusters.
In 1936 he was elected as a Labour councillor in Liverpool. After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War Jones became active in the Aid Spain campaign in Liverpool. After hearing a speech given by Paul Robeson in June 1937, Jones decided to join the International Brigades. Jones fought for many months before being seriously wounded at Ebro in July 1938.
When Jones returned to England he became a full-time official of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) in Coventry. During the Second World War he helped to keep the city's munitions industry working through the Blitz.
By the end of the war Jones had developed a reputation as a militant trade union figure. However, Arthur Deakin, the general secretary of the TGWU, disagreed with Jones' approach to trade unionism. According to Geoffrey Goodman: "By the end of the war, he (Jones) had established a powerful union base in Coventry, as well as a national reputation, which became the forerunner of a powerful shop stewards movement across the car industry. It also provoked envy and opposition from his union's national leaders, notably the then general secretary, Arthur Deakin, who effectively blacklisted Jones as a near-communist. It was Deakin who effectively blocked his promotion within the union because of his radical politics and his commitment to shop steward power - a policy fiercely rejected not only by Deakin but many other national union leaders. Deakin was convinced that Jones was indeed an undercover communist - something Jones always denied."
After the death of Arthur Deakin, the left-winger, Frank Cousins was elected as General Secretary of the TGWU. In 1956 Cousins appointed Jones as Midland region engineering secretary. In 1963 Cousins brought Jones to London where he became the union's executive national officer.
In 1968 Jones was elected General Secretary of the TGWU. He was also a leading figure of the Trade Union Congress and was its principal spokesman on international and economic matters. It has been claimed that Jones was the most influential political figure outside the cabinet. Geoffrey Goodman argues that Jones was able to persuade Harold Wilson to "create various new bodies, including the industrial dispute body, Acas, the Health and Safety Executive and the Manpower Services Commission in charge of work training".
In 1977 he gave the BBC Dimbleby Lecture. The following year he retired as General Secretary of the TGWU. Jones was also Vice-President of the International Transport Workers Federation and was a campaigner for pensioners' rights. His autobiography, Union Man, was published in 1986.
Jack Jones died aged 96 on 21st April 2009.