Remembering Leon Brumant

Submitted by AWL on 25 April, 2016 - 4:30 Author: Daniel Randall

Leon, on the left, picketing Oxford Circus station during a London Underground strike in August 2015.

Leon Brumant, London Underground worker, RMT union rep, and socialist and anti-racist activist, died on Friday 22 April, aged just 30 years old. He is survived by Nailah, his young daughter.

He was an inspirational organiser and a profoundly effective communicator, with a non-sectarian attitude to politics that saw him build links and win friends across the socialist left, inside and outside of his union. He served on the RMT's national Young Members Advisory Committee, and was my predecessor as RMT London Transport Regional Council Young Members' Officer, from 2013-2014. He had recently been elected Assistant Secretary of the London Transport Regional Council, as well as RMT Health and Safety representative for the Special Requirements Team, the department of London Underground in which he worked. He was also a founding member of Brent Anti-Racism Campaign, a community anti-racism and anti-fascist campaign in the part of London where he had grown up and still lived.

Leon grew up in a working-class community in north west London. His political journey to socialism had taken in Christianity, Islam, and versions of Black nationalism, the latter of which continued to inform aspects of his politics. He was an intensely thoughtful individual, a voracious reader of political and philosophical texts, and tenacious and engaging in debate and discussion. His commitment to the campaigns he became involved in was unparalleled; members of Workers' Liberty working on London Underground developed a close relationship with Leon through struggles such as the "Justice for the 33" campaign, a fight against the unjust sacking of 33 agency workers at stations on the north end of the Bakerloo Line. Leon's work in this and other campaigns was characterised by a tireless, burning dedication. Leon was conscious that the extent to which he threw himself into campaigning work made him prone to activist burnout, leading to periods of inactivity. He was constantly searching for strategies to rationalise his activist rhythms, for ways to avoid those peaks and troughs; but if he had been able to participate in activity with anything less than the total, all-consuming passion that he did, he would, perhaps, not have been Leon.

Leon was one of my closest friends and comrades at work, and in the union. I first met him a few months before I started working on the Tube, and he was a constant source of guidance, inspiration, and support to me from that point onwards, probably to a far greater extent than he ever realised. Some of my proudest work as a London Underground trade union militant so far was undertaken alongside Leon - organising picket lines at Oxford Circus station during strikes in the summer of 2015, for example.

The last time I saw Leon was on an RMT Bakerloo Line branch organising walkabout, an activity we had often done together before. I was in awe of his ability to "talk union on the job", finding ways to communicate and express radical trade union ideas and culture to colleagues in a way that never felt artificial, contrived, or hectoring. After a morning walking round stations, distributing literature, talking to members about ongoing union campaigns and listening to their issues, we stopped in the Stonebridge Park station mess room for a coffee break. A casual chat over coffee with Leon had a tendency to become pretty intense, pretty quickly; our discussion that day took in all manner of issues: whether Marxism's materialism was capable of responding to or engaging with the "emotional" sphere; how liberation struggles and class struggles intersect; how the working-class movement should deal with the question of "aspiration"; and more.

Those topics are fairly representative of the way Leon connected to and explored his ideas. There was a profoundly "spiritual" element to his politics; not in a religious or mystical sense, but rather a deep concern for the ways in which the daily brutalities of exploitation and oppression under capitalism twist and distort the human spirit and its creative potential.

He often criticised me for being reductionist, for too crudely boiling politics down to the economic relation between boss and worker, and sidelining those "spiritual" or emotional aspects which can sometimes be people's first engagement with revolutionary ideas. He agreed with me, I think, that the class relation was at the core of capitalism and therefore must be the ultimate basis of revolutionary organisation; but I think too that he was right to check me for sometimes slipping into a vulgar "workerism". I wish I had the opportunity to tell him how much I learnt from him.

In an age characterised predominantly by defeats for our class and our movement, many trade unionists find themselves ground down into routine, simply running to stand still. Leon resisted that pressure. He was an "intellectual" in the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci's sense of the term — someone motivated by a worldview, who acted to make that worldview hegemonic.

This obituary can hardly do justice to his political work, still less to his sense of humour or his warm and steadfast friendship. We have lost a comrade who in many ways represented the future of the movement, and we have lost a dear friend. Our movement, and all of our lives, will be poorer without him in them.

• A fund for Leon's daughter has been set up. Donate online here.

• The RMT will also be fundraising with the union and wider labour movement to contribute towards funeral costs and a memorial event for Leon. We will publish details on our website when we have them.

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