Saturday, November 23, 2013

Obituaries: Campbell McEwen and Harry Walters (1996)

Obituaries from the October 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Campbell McEwen
Members throughout Britain will be saddened by the death at 65 of Campbell McEwen. Many will remember him for his forthright contributions at our conferences during the last 30 years.

Campbell became interested in working class politics when in his teens, and his first serious political act was to register as a conscientious objector. He appeared before the tribunal and, without any assistance, argued his case so convincingly that he won a rare full exemption from military service. Not bad for an 18-year-old!

A spell in the Communist Party soon brought disillusion and Campbell's courage (or foolhardiness, he had both aplenty) was shown when he and his lifelong pal Eric Darroch chose to leave the CP, not by simply dropping out, but by going along to their branch to present their reasons for resigning, and there they were denounced in the standard CP phraseology of the period. Soon after this, Campbell encountered the Socialist Party at the old Glasgow Workers Open Forum and he joined the party in 1953.

His job record resembled those often attributed to adventure-story writers by their publishers, but his loathing of wage-slavery ensured that he never settled at anything. He was a railway porter, tram driver, salesman, clerk, tally-man, trade union organiser, telephone operator, etc, and had a fund of hilarious and sometimes sobering stories to tell about all of them.

About 15 years go Campbell had a serious illness and life-saving surgery was necessary. Towards the end of last year cancer was diagnosed but this time not even prompt surgery could save our comrade. At the cremation a large turn-out of members heard comrades Donnelly and Darroch deliver valedictory addresses befitting a staunch materialist.

Campbell McEwen's contribution to the party was a generous one, and he spoke in his own uncompromising style at outdoor and indoor meetings for many years. He was a larger-than-life character and we will miss him. We extend our deepest condolences to his family.

Harry Walters
Harry Walters, a long time member of the old Paddington branch and its successors died in July after a long a long illness, at the age of 82.

It was not until 1946 when he was aged 32 that Harry joined the Party. Characteristically in registering as a conscientious objector during the war without holding a Party card he had made the task of facing the tribunal that much harder but he had been loath for it to be thought that becoming a member was in any way motivated by it being to facilitate his avoidance of joining the killing machine. His time in jail in this context substantiated the fact that he truly was a man of principle. Contrary to the popular sentiment about COs, Harry was no namby-pamby weakling. Indeed, there was a famous occasion when a mid-week Hyde Park meeting arranged by Paddington Branch was being broken-up by thuggish opponents and his still remembered pugilistic skills saved the day.

Harry was a painter by trade and worked many years at the Elstree Studios, painting scenery for films where he built up a formidable reputation as a UCATT shop steward, never compromising the interests of his workmates out of political considerations as was often the case with his Labour and Communist Party opposite numbers.

Harry had a remarkable flair for handling and conveying scientific ideas and became very well read in anthropology and kindred fields. Sound as a rock on Socialist essentials, he never lapsed into any kind of dogmatism and was prepared fearlessly to get into the thick of debate at all levels. I shall  never forget when he went along to one of the New Left meetings at their Oxford Street venue with its audience of 500 chaired by the shamefully biased Raphael Samuel. It is true that Harry's argument was going to require his full quota of time plus a bit. When, after only about two minutes, the chair signalled time Harry, who had only got as a far as the ice-age, was thrown off his stride and said surely he had not gone over the limit. Mr Chairman, he appealed, how long have I been speaking? A voice from the back of the hall answered, ten thousand years! And brought the house down in laughter.

Party members attended the funeral at Golders Green Crematorium at which Comrade Grant gave the address and Comrade Easton played IWW songs on the organ.

An enemy of the state? (1995)

Book Review from the January 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Enemy Within: MI5, Maxwell and the Scargill Affair, by Seumas Milne (Verso, 344pp, £16.95)

In a letter to me which Arthur Scargill, President of the National Union of Mineworkers, wrote in August 1992, he said: "It is now obvious from all the documentation in our possession that every single smear and allegation made against Peter Heathfield and myself has been discredited, disproved, thrown out by the court or been subject of a legal agreement which has vindicated the two National Officials and the Union itself."

Seumas Milne's long-awaited book on the 1984-5 miners' strike, and its aftermath, confirms this and much more besides. Unlike Paul Routledge, in his Scargill, Milne generally asserts that Scargill was more wronged than wrong.

Milne claims that there has been a twenty-year secret war against the NUM in general, and Arthur Scargill in particular. This was spearheaded by Margaret Thatcher, Robert Maxwell and Stella Rimington, now head of MI5. It was, he asserts, an unholy alliance. "For the Tories and the British Establishment as a whole," he writes, "Arthur Scargill came to embody all that they most feared and hated about trade union power in general, and the miners in particular." Scargill was "a man apart"; the living "embodiment of the enemy". The ruling class hated, and did everything it could, to defeat the NUM and Scargill.

Although the NUM was defeated in the 1984-5 strike, the end of the strike did not end the war against Scargill and the miners. In the war against the NUM, the Maxwell-owned Daily Mirror was probably more vociferous than the traditional anti-union papers. Together with ITV's Cook Report, the Mirror accused Scargill and the NUM general secretary, Peter Heathfield, of theft and embezzlement of money donated for strike purposes; of using money sent from Libya to pay off mortgages; and of receiving million of pounds from the Soviet Union. Almost all the media, the government, and many Labour Party leaders, joined in the chorus of abuse - which continued well into 1990.

But as Arthur Scargill said in his letter to me, and as Milne demonstrates in meticulous details, every one of the claims proved to be untrue, unfounded or wildly exaggerated. Neither Scargill nor Heathfield paid off mortgages with Libyan money, because neither had a mortgage and neither received a penny from Libya. And although the Soviet Union belatedly sent a million dollars to the pro-"Communist" international miners' organisation for general purposes, none of this money reached the NUM, or its leaders, during the strike. The British state seized the NUM's assets, and Scargill arranged parallel, supposedly secret funds. But, as Milne demonstrates, MI5 and GCHQ, using all kind of illegal methods, knew about most of the money. They also, apparently, had a spy right in the headquarters of the union. Indeed, the government used every trick in the book to destroy the NUM and its top officials such as Peter Heathfield and Arthur Scargill. For instance, Scargill and the NUM were tricked into concentrating mass picketing at the British Steel coking plant at Orgreave near Sheffield and the resulting pitched battle with the police.

Although Milne is largely sympathetic towards Scargill and Heathfield, it is obvious from his account, and what we already know, particularly of Scargill, that he made many mistakes before, during and after the strike. This was largely due to his peculiar political views - an unholy mixture of Bolshevik/Stalinist vanguardism and ill-digested syndicalism.

Nevertheless, he was considered to be a danger to British capitalism. To the British ruling class, he was very much an "enemy within". Milne's book is well reading, even if it only demonstrates to what extent the capitalist class and its lackeys will go.
Peter E. Newell

Alienated worker (1985)

From the August 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

All workers are forced to offer their labour for sale. If successful, they immediately forfeit all control over how, when and where it will be utilised. It is this loss of control which produces alienation between the worker and his labour. In my own circumstances this tends to occur frequently but varies in intensity.

I am employed as an engineer selling combustion equipment, and obviously have no control over what fuel is burnt, how the energy produced is used or how much pollution of the atmosphere is allowed to occur. Recently I was phoned in the early hours of the morning by a hospital in Glasgow which deals with geriatric patients. A combustion failure meant that they were running short of steam for heating and sterilisation. I rushed to the hospital, but it took several hours to repair the mechanical and electrical faults on the outdated equipment. I washed up and discussed the problems with the hospital engineer. "You know those burners are now illegal", I said. "Yes, I know, but I can't get the money to replace these units even though they contravene the Clean Air Act", he replied.

I was sharply reminded of this conversation when I travelled to an RAF base the following day to commission a new combustion unit on a new boiler. The base was playing war games and it took an hour to negotiate the sentry posts before I reached the boiler house. It took all day to commission the burner and complete efficiency tests. The engineer arrived to verify the combustion readings and I enquired what work the steam would be performing. "It's to keep the fighter planes in that hangar warm at night", he replied. "They must be kept at the right temperature so they can take off at a moment's notice." I was to learn later that the fuel bill for keeping the planes warm at night was over £650,000 a year.

The long drive home gave me plenty of time to reflect on a system which cares more for machines of destruction than the health of its elderly citizens.