I knew Tom Cashman as a friend and comrade from the early 70s.
Tom was someone who had a hinterland; his interests spanned good whiskey, particle physics, a love of Sean O’Casey’s plays, modernist architecture, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of schisms in the Catholic Church, which quite frankly bemused me. Tom was a very rounded person and a very humorous one.
But I want to say something about Tom the public man. Tom was a Marxist, an atheist and trade unionist who dedicated his life to the working class and had an unwavering conviction that socialism was the only hope of humanity.
Tom’s main arena of activity was within the unions and in particular the T&G [later Unite].
Although he was active in the 1970s, his misfortune was to come of age when the union movement was in decline. That, however, was the movement’s gain. It meant much of his activity was about holding the line; he did this by explaining to those who had forgotten, and those who had never known, what a trade union should do, and how a trade unionist should conduct themselves.
He often made the point to me that there were no short-cuts, no tricks to this, all we can do is talk and explain. What I think gave his approach such a sharp edge was his decision to consistently tell the truth. Now some may say so what, what’s the big deal about telling the truth? Well, all I can say is, you try it inside a trade union.
Talking, explaining and saying what needs to be done next is what Tom did, and others will testify to his importance within the T&G and its left.
However Tom was also vilified for his views. While we often joked about this, the wellspring of this enmity towards him arose from what he stood for.
If you think about it, there were always going to be those who did not like the fact he was principled, that he fought against Stalinist influence within the union, that he was incorruptible; the idea that a trip to Cuba or America would turn his head and him into someone’s creature was never going to happen, although I have seen people try. On the most mundane of levels there were those who resented him because he always turned up to meetings having read the paperwork, and they had not.
For all these reasons people kicked against Tom, yet in all the years I knew him I never once heard him get angry about such people; his duty was to explain. His political enemies and comrades were a different matter. He was always ready to have the argument.
Of course there are many trade unionists with similar qualities. However no-one exhibited these qualities in quite the same way or with quite the same mix as Tom.
In our world where we measure our actions and our victories in a lower case, Tom played a huge role in holding the movement together and provided real insights in how we should rebuild it.
I cannot think of anyone who has acquitted themselves in our cause with greater dedication. As for me I have lost a dear friend and the staunchest of comrades.