Memories of Tony Reay

Submitted by martin on 26 April, 2020 - 11:31 Author: A Lewisham AWL member
Tony Reay

Tony Reay, who died on 23 April, was a campaigner, trade unionist and socialist. For most of his adult life he worked closely with Workers’ Liberty comrades in the civil service trade unions, first the CPSA and then the PCS. He was based in Lewisham for the past 30 years and was hugely respected in the Lewisham labour movement.

I first met Tony 27 years ago, just after I moved to London. The then AWL industrial organiser discovered I was now living across from the road from Tony, and sent me to visit Tony with the instruction to recruit him.

I still don’t know if that was the organiser’s sense of humour, or just ill-advised. Tony was a long way from recruitable, and was somewhat bemused by a kid turning up on his doorstep to try. We had a long discussion about creating a single civil service union, and disagreed. From recollection, Workers’ Liberty was in favour of one union. Tony was concerned about management grades being in the union.

Tony didn’t suffer fools gladly. I don’t think he thought much of me after that first meeting. Not because we disagreed: Tony was never worried by that. Over the years of working on the Trades Council together and in various campaigns, we became good friends.

Tony was acerbic, but he would work with anyone to achieve his aims and was willing to change his opinion in the light of the facts. He was also averse to mindless factionalism. This aversion to factionalism was particularly valuable recently as the Lewisham left became a factional bearpit. Tony demanded honest discussion and democracy, and refused to allow Workers' Liberty comrades to be side-lined by our enemies.

Tony was a workerist in both the good and to some extent the bad sense. He was a mainstay of Lewisham Trades Council, always keen to promote workers’ struggle, on every picket line. and always centred on the needs of our class.

Yet he once described the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign to me as public schoolgirls. He was wrong. However, despite that, and despite being frustrated by some in the campaign, he supported it and fought alongside it until its victory. He was central to the campaign to keep a Job Centre in Lewisham.

He returned to the Labour Party when Corbyn was elected leader. He navigated the vicious split on the left by demanding we all focus on the tasks of getting a Labour government and ensuring rights for zero-hours and agency workers as well as other working-class demands.

He felt the discussions about antisemitism in the party or even about Brexit were diversions which risked squandering the opportunity of getting a Labour Government. We would disagree with him about that. But his focus, drive and determination to win for our class was never in doubt. In the Lewisham labour movement he stood as a leader for serious class focussed politics.

Recently, through the auspices of Lewisham Trades Council, of which he had been the chair for many years, Tony sought to set up a Lewisham Housing Forum to address the chronic issue of housing in the borough. Sadly, that fell victim to the factionalism in Lewisham.

There are already plans in Lewisham to commemorate Tony’s life and struggles. We can best serve his legacy by building a movement focussed on working class struggle and untainted by puerile factionalism.

We send our condolences to his family, friends and comrades. We salute you, comrade Tony. You will be greatly missed!

• We will carry a further commemoration of Tony by comrades in PCS soon.

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