Raising aspirations, confronting vested interests

Submitted by Matthew on 10 September, 2014 - 11:29 Author: Maria Exall

I am missing Tom, both as a friend and as a comrade.

As a comrade, what I miss most is the chance to engage with his perceptive insights into the class struggle now, and his analysis of the history of the class. He had a deep understanding of the British (and Irish) labour movements. Tom was a highly intelligent man who used his great abilities to promote the interests of the working class, this purpose being at the centre of his life all the time I knew him.

Tom was extremely confident in his political analysis, which meant he took no prisoners in an argument. But this was combined with a security in his own opinion which meant he had nothing to prove. He offered his analysis up as it was — he was never aggressive or hectoring.

When I first got to know Tom I was somewhat bemused that a focus of his union involvement was trade union education, something I had never seen as a particular priority for socialist activists. As I got to know him better I understood why. Tom had a massive commitment to raising aspirations of the class at the same time as accepting where you start from. He was never patronising — he just expected more.

Tom and I used to meet up to discuss the nature of the trade union bureaucracy and the state of the link between Labour and the unions. We would exchange stories of the many absurdities of the trade union movement and the Labour Party. These would be discussed by Tom with acute analysis and dry humour.

Tom got elected to the Unite Executive and took the opportunity to put into practice his commitment to an industrially based but political trade unionism at a national level. He worked for the important reforms undertaken by United Left supporters to make the union workplace focused and democratically accountable. This meant he had to confront vested interests not only in the bureaucracy but also within the left. He always did this in a well thought out and principled way. I met many Unite activists who disagreed with him, but also respected and had an affection for him.

It is hard to take on board that someone with Tom’s great insight and understanding is gone. His influence lives on in those of us who had the privilege of knowing him.

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