Eamonn Lynch, a long-standing member of the SWP in Birmingham, died last Tuesday.
I cannot remember the last time I spoke to Eamonn, or even exactly when and where I last saw him. In recent years it was obvious that his health was not good and he seemed to have become prematurely aged (he was probably about them same age as myself); I also got the impression that his vision had deteriorated. Whenever and wherever it was I last saw him, my recollection is that he didn’t see me. And, to my bitter regret, I didn’t go over and say hello.
Not that we’d ever been close friends, but we’d known each other well enough to share the occasional chat, joke and drink over a period of about thirty five years. He’d appeared as a member of the IS/SWP in Birmingham sometime in the mid-to-late seventies, just after I’d been expelled from that organisation. He was a printer (whether professionally trained or self-taught I do not know) and ran the printshop in the SWP bookshop that existed in Birmingham in the seventies and early eighties. He was unfailingly good-humoured and friendly and on the relatively few occasions that we discussed political differences it was without the rancour or self-righteousness that all too often, even in the seventies and eighties, tended to characterise such discussions, and which these days seem virtually par for the course.
I suppose I got to spend most time with Eamonn during the 1984-85 miners’ strike, when he was the only SWP member in Birmingham (and possibly, anywhere else) to be involved in the Miners’ Support Committee and its support and fund-raising activities in the first six months of the strike. The official SWP ‘line’ at the time was to publicly ignore these committees, and in private, to sneer at them and their work as “left-wing Oxfam” and “the baked beans brigade.” Eamonn never openly criticised his organisation and would not be drawn on any discussions about its ‘line’, but his very presence at the Committee meetings and fund-rasing events made it obvious that he didn’t agree with the ‘line.’ I can clearly remember the almost palpable pleasure and relief that came over him when, six months or so into the strike, it became apparent that the ‘line’ had changed and the SWP began to involve itself in the work of the support committees throughout Britain (though, typically, with no accounting for the change).
After the strike our paths crossed less often, but we would still meet from time to time at political events, demos and in the ‘Prince of Wales’ pub in Moseley (a favourite haunt of Birmingham lefties). For a while he ran a little one-person printing business and I was able to put some work his way. But new technology put him out of business sometime in the late eighties and I don’t think he ever had paid employment again. I would still occssionally see him in the street, as he lived near where I was working at the time. He was still friendly, but something had changed: he seemed a bit vague, a bit distant and gradually, with the passage of time we didn’t have a lot to say to each other once the small-talk ran out. For all his bonhomie, he always struck me as a rather lonely figure, and that loneliness seemed to increase over the years. To be honest, towards the end, he also looked as though he was rather down on his luck.
To the best of my knowledge, Eamonn remained a member of the SWP to the end, though not terribly active in his last years. There was a dogged loyalty about Eamonn that I suspect kept him in the organisation even when he didn’t agree with it on certain issues. In the words of James P Cannon (in ‘Notebook of an Agitator’) , he was:
“…a friend and partisan of all good causes, always ready to circulate a petition, help out a collection or get up a protest meeting to demand that wrongs be righted. The good causes, then as now, were mostly unpopular ones, and he nearly always found himself in the minority, on the side of the under-dogs who couldn’t do him any good in the tough game of making money and getting ahead. He had to pay for that (…) but it couldn’t be helped. (He) was made that way, and I don’t think it ever entered his head to do otherwise or live otherwise than he did.
“That’s just about all there is to tell of him. But I thought (…), that’s a great deal. Carl Sandberg said it in this way: ‘These are the heroes then – among the plain people – Heroes, did you say? And why not? They gave all they’ve got and ask no questions and take what comes to them and what more do you want?’ “