Monday, June 1, 2015

Tom Redmond 1938–2015

Funeral Oration, Eddie Glacken, CPI

Friends and comrades, 
     It is hard to come to terms with the fact that Tom is no longer with us; it’s hard to envisage a world without Tom. His loss is a bitter blow to the CPI. He has been present in every struggle waged by the Irish working class for over half a century. 
     Tom didn’t lick it off the stones. 
     His grandfather John James Redmond was born in Dublin about 1880 and served his apprentice­ship to the engineer­ing trade in the Camel-​Laird shipyard in Liverpool-​Birkenhead. John was a founder-​member in 1920 of the Irish Engineer­ing Industrial and Electrical Trade Union, fore­runner of today’s TEEU. In fact he had been instru­mental in secur­ing a loan from Constance Markievicz, Minister for Labour under the first Dáil, to facili­tate the establish­ment of an Irish trade union for engineer­ing workers, following serious dis­satisfaction with the British-​based Amalgamated Society of Engineers. 
     Tom’s father, Seán, a former IRA member, joined the Commun­ist Party on its re-​formation in 1933. He was also involved in the Republican Congress. Like many young pro­gres­sives at the time, Seán wanted to go to Spain to fight fascism with the Inter­national Brigade. Tom told me recently that “Peadar O’Donnell prevented Seán senior going to Spain; that probably saved his life, and maybe mine too!” That’s another debt the people of Ireland owe to Peadar O’Donnell! 
     Tom was born in Dublin in 1938. They were tough times, economically and politi­cally. Tom went to school in Westland Row and, as he says, found his way from Westland Row to the party book­shop in Pearse Street at sixteen years of age—a short distance to walk, a huge leap for a teen­age lad in the Dublin of the 50s. Armed with the sage advice of his father, “Question every­thing: take nothing for granted,” Tom embarked on his life-long political crusade which would endure for over sixty years. 
     In 1957 the family were obliged to emigrate to Britain. Tom spent the next eleven years heavily involved in progres­sive politics in London and Manchester through the Commun­ist Party of Great Britain. His main area of involve­ment, together with other family members, was with the Connolly Association. 
     The Association was amongst the first to raise the issue of demo­cratic rights in the North. As Joe Bowers from Belfast, long-time party activist and an early member of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Associ­ation, said to me recently, “Tom was active on the question of civil rights in Northern Ireland before we were.” An example of the type of activity under­taken by the Connolly Associ­ation was a march from London to Birmingham in the scorch­ing hot summer of 1961 when fourteen marchers, including Tom, Seán and Áine Redmond, high­lighted the situ­ation in the North. Their demands were for the repeal of the Special Powers Act, an inquiry into the Govern­ment of Ireland Act, amnesty for republican prisoners, and recognition of the ICTU by the Stormont regime. Thirty years later Tony Coughlan said, “These can truth­fully be said to have been the first Irish civil rights marches.” 
     On his return to Ireland in 1968 Tom immedi­ately joined the Irish Workers’ Party and became a member of its Execu­tive Com­mittee. As such he was involved in the discus­sions with the comrades in the CPNI which led to the re-​establishment of the all-​Ireland CPI in Belfast in 1970. Tom was subsequently elected vice-​chairperson of the united party and remained a member of its National Execu­tive Committee up until his death. 
     Central to Tom’s political understanding was a recognition of the correct­ness of Lenin’s dictum that “without a revo­lutionary theory there can be no revo­lutionary move­ment” and the necessity for a revo­lutionary party of the work­ing class which could politically inform the day-to-day struggles of the people, link­ing them together in the over­all struggle for independence and socialism. 
     From the Unity Congress in 1970, Tom was a member of the party’s NEC and NPC, sometime editor of the Irish Socialist and the theoretical journal Irish Socialist Review. Widely read, he had a profound grasp of Marxist theory, of the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and—a particular favourite of Tom’s—Antonio Gramsci. Unsurprisingly, given his own family history, he had a deep knowledge and under­stand­ing of Irish history and of the inter­national working-​class movement. Like his great hero James Connolly, Tom was, in Gramsci’s famous term, an “organic intellectual”—a largely politically self-​educated working-​class man with a vast range of interests and an intellect which was second to none. 
     But Tom was no arid theoretician. Always, his views were informed by his involve­ment as a CPI strategist in the great campaigns of the time but also as an activist in the day-to-day struggles of the people. 
     Down all the years Tom has left his mark on every struggle, every issue, every campaign which could contribute to the achieve­ment of Connolly’s dream of an Ireland free, united, and socialist. He campaigned against entry to the Common Market and the various and nefarious subsequent referenda, he was active in the Resources Protec­tion Campaign, he was one of the architects of the short-​lived Left Alternative, whose manifesto “Go to Work, Ireland” was launched at a mass meeting of over a thousand people in the Mansion House, at which Tom spoke for the Commun­ist Party. He was chair­person of the Dublin United May Day Com­mittee, itself a coalition of left political and com­munity groups which managed to mobilise two thousand on highly political May Day rallies before the Trades Council took over the organisation of May Day. 
     Tom has always been an active trade unionist. From his involve­ment in the Bray Branch of the Workers’ Union of Ireland and the Bray Trades Council in the early 70s, through No. 17 Branch of the FWUI and the Execu­tive Com­mittee of the union, Tom’s involve­ment can be seen through the pages of his friend Francie Devine’s massive work on the centenary of SIPTU, Organising History. In it can be traced Tom’s signifi­cant contri­bution at WUI and FWUI confer­ences through the 70s and early 80s, fighting the good fight on issues like partition, civil rights, support for ICTU campaigns in the North, the protec­tion of our national resources, opposition to centralised bargain­ing, nationalisation of the banks, against repres­sive legis­lation, opposition to coalition, support for the Anti-​Apartheid Movement, opposition to EU members­hip, defence of Irish sovereignty and neutrality. Two things in particular stand out for me from those years; first was Tom’s active com­mit­ment to the battle for women’s equality in the union, the struggle for a Women’s Com­mittee and a Women’s Con­sulta­tive Confer­ence; secondly was his contri­bution to the sharp clashes with two-​nationist ideologues who sought to turn the union away from the traditions of Connolly and Larkin. 
     Another notable area of involve­ment for Tom was in Trade Unionists for Irish Unity and Independence. This important initia­tive was largely driven by Tom’s brother Seán, general secretary at the time of the Irish Munici­pal Employees’ Trade Union and former Secretary of the Connolly Associ­ation. TUIUI had an impres­sive list of over forty leading trade union officials and repre­senta­tives from all the major unions. It campaigned for support for a Bill of Rights in the North, endorse­ment of the MacBride Principles, which sought to ban invest­ment by US pension funds in companies which engaged in religious discrimi­nation, and support in the Irish and British labour move­ments for an end to repres­sion in the North and a British Declaration of Intent to with­draw. Significant progress was recorded in the British trade union move­ment and in the active support of trade unionists in the USA through our friends in the Irish-​American Labour Coalition. Progress was also achieved in the trade union move­ment here in beat­ing back the assaults of the two-​nationists and those who sought to ban even discus­sion of the national question. 
     In more recent years Tom con­tinued to stand in the vanguard of the Connolly tradition, acknowledging the essential comple­men­tarity of the national and social ques­tions, trying to regain for the labour move­ment the position which Connolly had won for them in the van of the national independence move­ment, bringing together the best elements of the social­ist and republican traditions. To this end he was centrally involved in the estab­lish­ment of the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum. Apart from the essential politics, the Forum was near to Tom’s heart, as he liked nothing better than open and honest debate and clash of opinions. As he was known to say, “There are no enemies on the Left, only rivals.” 
     True to his trade union roots, although long retired from “active service” in the move­ment, he actively supported the estab­lish­ment of the Trade Union Left Forum as a place and a space where trade union social­ist activists could come together to discuss and debate how to restore class politics at the heart of the trade union movement. 
     There are so many strings to Tom’s bow it’s almost impossible to even list them: his profound inter­national­ism, his support for and solidarity with all those fight­ing imperial­ism, from the Soviet Union and the other social­ist countries to heroic Vietnam and Cuba, from South Africa to Venezuela and Palestine. 
     With Kate he established Aonad Computer Services Co-Op, an early example of a demo­cratic social enter­prise which provided, usually for the first time, IT hard­ware, soft­ware and train­ing for the trade union, volun­tary and com­munity sectors. But that too had a politi­cal dimen­sion, Tom being heavily involved in the Feder­ation of Workers’ Co-​operatives and as a member of FÁS’s Co-​operative Development Council. 
     Later, at an age when most people are reaching for the pipe and slippers (or, in Tom’s case, John Player’s Blues!), Tom moved into the world of com­munity develop­ment. He was employed by his good friend and comrade Seanie Lambe in the Inner City Resource Group on a three-​year contract, which subsequently stretched to ten years. As Seanie says, Tom was a “natural” at the work and was liked by all he came in contact with. Working with poor and dis­advantaged com­munities, he organised, facili­tated and led consul­tations on issues like plan­ning, housing and health. He produced an anti-​racist video; he organised funding for holidays for the elderly. Later he worked with the late Inez McCormack on a cross-​border project on Partici­pation and the Practice of Rights. 
     “Tireless” doesn’t even begin to describe Tom. Latterly he has been chair­person of the manage­ment com­mittee of the Dublin 12 Congress Un­employed Centre and threw him­self with energy and enthusiasm into the Right to Water campaign. 
     Non-sectarian, principled, open, tolerant, a powerful speaker but also a good listener, always reach­ing out to people—including those critical of the party—modest, devoid of ego, an out­stand­ing com­mun­ist and a rare and excep­tional human being, Tom is the revo­lution­ary we should all aspire to be. I would like to issue an invi­ta­tion to friends and comrades here who have soldiered with Tom and been touched by his passion and integrity: you can pay no greater tribute to Tom than to join the party to which he devoted his life, the Commun­ist Party, and help it to become a party worthy of Tom. 
     I will conclude this tribute by quoting the young Soviet communist and writer Nikolai Ostrovsky: 
     “Man’s dearest possession is life. It is given to him but once, and he must live it so as to feel no tortur­ing regrets for wasted years, never know the burn­ing shame of a mean and petty past; so live that, dying, he may say: all my life and all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world—the fight for the Liberation of Mankind.” 
     That was Tom. 
     Farewell, dear friend and comrade.

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