We carried a piece honouring Comrade Tom shortly after his death in August. But this appreciation, which also appears in the AWL’s paper Solidarity, is the best and most politically astute article about Tom I’ve yet seen. It is also very moving and the author, Mick O’Sullivan, was probably Tom’s oldest and closest political friend. I’m proud to be able to post it here at Shiraz, with the author’s unhesitating agreement:
I knew Tom as a friend and comrade since the early
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 shortcuts,
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