June­–July 2015        

Tom Redmond

In late May the death was announced of Tom Redmond, a lifelong member of the Communist Party of Ireland. Tom was a worker, a trade union and community activist, a political thinker, and a great communicator. Several generations of young communists and other activists appreciated his unselfish giving of his knowledge and experience of the working class and the national independence movement.

Funeral oration
Eddie Glackin
National Executive Committee, 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 lifelong 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 Seánie Lambe in the Inner City Resource Group on a three-year contract, which subsequently stretched to ten years. As Seánie 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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