On Sunday 6 September my good friend and comrade Tim Hales passed away several months after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
Tim will be known to many readers of Solidarity for the colourful and vibrant cartoons he produced regularly for the paper over recent years. He had been an art teacher since the 1980s, first in Barnsley and then Leeds, and was able to devote more time to his own artwork after retirement. He took the responsibility for producing cartoons very seriously and was always proud to see his work published in the paper.
I first met Tim as an activist in the Leeds division (branch) of the National Union of Teachers in the early 1990s. He was someone who lacked any self-importance; quiet, friendly and unassuming but always willing to contribute whatever he could. We were both part of a group of socialist teachers determined to ensure that both the national union and the local branch had policies and leadership which would fight for members.
When the very experienced local secretary announced his retirement in 1992, we met as a group to decide how we would respond. Proposed and encouraged by others, Tim agreed to stand as secretary on condition that some of the rest of us would take some of the available time and support him.
He became Leeds NUT secretary and from that point until his retirement we worked together as local union officers, though I replaced him as secretary when he decided to step down in 2003.
Everything about the way Tim carried out this work was impressive but what struck me most was his diligence and commitment. Injustice was one of the few things that could produce anger in this gentle man, and he would leave no stone unturned to challenge it. He did pioneering work on tackling workplace bullying, searching for ways to build collective response to this modern plague.
Politically, Tim had been a member of Militant. Later, when that group left Labour and split, his loyalties remained with the Grantite group, Socialist Appeal. When I first got into political discussions with him, his practical connections to this group seemed slim.
Certainly, that tradition informed his world-view and his understanding of Marxism. In an almost startling departure from the norm, however, he was always up for political discussion and hungry to hear about new ideas. In keeping with his overall personality there was not a sectarian bone in his body.
Inevitably our discussions focused more and more on the areas where our politics differed. It was clear that, as with most of the British left, Tim had never come across third camp socialism. He was open to many of the ideas but immensely respectful of all he had been taught by the Militant tradition.
A turning point came when, after a series of discussions about the Russian occupation of Afghanistan (which Militant had supported/excused), I gave him our pamphlet The Tragedy of Afghanistan. This is a lengthy, dense piece of work which uses a detailed account of the Russian invasion and occupation to explain the nature of Stalinism, the state, imperialism and the socialist response to national oppression and reactionary ideas.
Tim worked in an immensely time-consuming job and had a young family at this time. It came as a shock to me, therefore, when he returned to work the next day having read the entire pamphlet and hungry to discuss it. No doubt there was a cumulative effect of our many discussions up to that point, but he didn’t hide the fact that this reading had had an immense impact.
Shortly after that Tim became a Workers’ Liberty sympathiser and remained so until the end. He began to attend our teachers’ (later school workers’) fraction, annual summer school and Leeds branch public meetings. Later came the invitation to contribute cartoons to the paper which he accepted with pride.
Tim remained politically active in retirement and had much still to give. He carried on doing health and safety work for the NEU and attending local union meetings. Like so many he was drawn back into Labour Party activity from 2015 by the Corbyn surge. He was also enjoying the time that retirement had finally given him to spend with his family, his art and our shared passion for football.
This cruel and arbitrary disease has denied him more of that and taken him from us. It goes without saying that the loss will be felt deepest and hardest by his wife Wendy and daughters Jenny and Sally. Our heartfelt condolences are extended to them. We will remember him as a great friend and a serious, thoughtful and dedicated comrade. RIP Tim.