Saturday, 9 May 2009

Malcolm was a diamond

This is what I said at the service for Malcolm on Thursday;

I won’t be the first or last today to observe that Malcolm was a diamond.

And like a diamond he had many facets, all of them important to the warm and wonderful human being that he was.

I want to say a few words about just one of those facets – Malcolm’s passionate, committed and effective political engagement in the wider trade union beyond his branch.

Looking into the diamond of our memories of Malcolm we can all see different reflections.

I can see Malcolm stood in front of people speaking – challenging standing orders at UNISON Conference maybe, or asking questions on the Annual Report.

Malcolm liked precision in the use of language and if that made him a pedant sometimes, then he was the sort of pedant we need many more of, because if the people in power in an organisation can make sure that a decision is vague and imprecise then they can escape accountability for its implementation.

It’s because Malcolm knew this so well that we, his friends, consigned him to the Standing Orders Committee for Local Government Conference, where he had to spend years arguing in private and against the odds so that UNISON members would have a fair chance to express our views.
To most people this would have been purgatory. I don’t think that those of us who sent him back there year after year should feel guilty though.

I think Malcolm enjoyed those arguments in the no-longer-smoke-filled rooms where the real decisions are so often taken. In fact the last words he ever spoke to me were to tell me to get along to a meeting of the Standing Orders Committee last Monday for an argument about a branch motion.

I hope he would have forgiven me for not having been able to make it.

Another way in which, looking through the diamond, I can see Malcolm is sat in a Committee – it must be our Regional Committee as I can see the bemused look with which he would greet a particularly poorly argued or inarticulate contributions which he knew nevertheless stood to win a majority of votes from those who probably weren’t even listening to the argument.

A friend observed last week that Malcolm could remain calm and continue to argue reasonably in the face of such provocation. I rarely saw Malcolm lose his temper in circumstances in which to have done so might have weakened the argument he was trying to make or support.

But I did see Malcolm’s anger from time to time – and I can see it now as another facet in the diamond.

Less than a month ago, Malcolm replied to an email forwarded on from another friend. He was commenting on something that had been said by a union official and I want to quote his words; “The idea that we hold off for what we ultimately want and don’t pursue something that is clearly more achievable in the short term seems to me to be a bit daft. And how on earth does it weaken our bargaining position in the future?”

You don’t need to know what the disagreement was about to know from those words that Malcolm was angry, as he was when he crossed London to Barnet to support the Fremantle strikers on more than one occasion.

I saw that same anger from Malcolm when Conference speakers who couldn’t win an argument would resort to personal and political attacks upon their opponents, or when he saw bullies abusing their power – whether that was at work, in the trade union or in the Labour Party.

However, an angry Malcolm Campbell is a small aspect of my many memories. A larger facet of the diamond of memory is of Malcolm supporting fellow activists, as a friend sharing a pint over lunch at Conference, after a meeting in Central London or at a festival.

In the few short days since the shocking news that we had lost Malcolm a number of us on UNISON’s left-wing have been sharing our recollections and what stands out as a constant theme is of Malcolm as a true and loyal friend.

These aren’t my words, but I share these sentiments;

You were more than a good comrade and friend to me and gave me so much support over the last few years;

Malcolm was a mentor as well as a friend to me;

I was proud to have you as a comrade in arms fighting for the rights of UNISON members and so many others. I was equally proud to call you friend;

Malcolm was a great friend and comrade of mine;

The movement has lost huge asset and I have lost a friend;

Thanks so very much for being such a good friend and a canny marra.

Malcolm was a diamond; a rare, beautiful and valuable treasure – and whilst we do, and always will, remember the political activity which was so important to him - most importantly of all we remember Malcolm today as our friend.

Malcolm, we love you.

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