MAY SPECIAL OFFER – BUY 3 BOOKS AND GET UP TO 40% OFF RETAIL PRICE – FREE SHIPPING

Memoirs of a Militant by Kevin Halpin – order now

A REVIEW BY ANDREW MURRAY
A life of struggle and working class politics has made Kevin Halpin a widely recognised labour movement figure. Now, for a new generation of emerging activists, in the unions and the CP, he has set out the lessons of his experience, set down his own words in a very readable biography, writes Andrew Murray. Memoirs of a Militant is not just a memoir, despite its title.
For all its entertaining anecdotes and first-person reflections it is also a guide to revolutionary practice - above all in how communists should work in the mass movement and how to unite the daily struggles of working people with the larger battle for socialism. Kevin will be well known to many Star readers.
His most celebrated role was leading, for many years, the rank-and-file Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions, an organisation that was central to the mighty industrial struggles of the late 1960s and early '70s and the defeat of the anti-trade union proposals of the Harold Wilson and Ted Heath governments. As the trade union movement is showing the first significant signs of recovering from the long years of soporific social partnership, recalling how such battles were fought and won is of the greatest importance - for all the significant changes of the last 40 years.
The freeing of the Pentonville Five, the "kill the Bill" campaign against the Industrial Relations Act of 1971, the battle of Saltley Gates in the 1972 miners' strike - Kevin Halpin was there at the centre of the action, a practical and principled working-class leader.
His industrial memories - recorded unmistakeably in his own voice - take the reader to the factories of Ford's vast Dagenham estate, to the old East End of docks and small workshops and to London Underground's Acton railworks. Everywhere the author became the leader of his fellow workers with a combination of astuteness, resilience and humour - as well as Marxist understanding.
Unlike too many communist trade unionists in the history of the British party, Kevin has always been a communist first and has been centrally engaged in the party's life and work. There are as many stories here of his activities in the party - congress debates, electoral contests - as there are tales from the shop floor. Discussions about democratic centralism jostle for space with accounts of cloak-and-dagger solidarity work with struggles abroad and of run-ins with a procession of inept and obnoxious managers and foremen.
And not all the anecdotes are political or industrial of course. The story of the day of his wedding to Anita, a leading Communist and trade unionist in her own right, is priceless - a tale of a clashing obligation to sell this newspaper at the works, of a cancelled train and a last-minute collection for the marriage licence. Kevin makes plain his view of the causes and consequences of the Communist Party of Great Britain's crisis in the 1980s and the need to re-establish the party after the Eurocommunist takeover.
A communist who has worked alongside Harry Pollitt, he could see the retreat from class politics as the betrayal it was. I have, as a reviewer, to declare an interest. Kevin has been a comrade for many years. His clarity of principle - I think especially of his immediate understanding of the significance of the Iraqi people's armed struggle against the British-US occupation of their country - and his understanding of how to work as a communist leader in the movement have been of inestimable assistance to me.
It is rare to produce a book which could be studied with profit on a shop stewards' course and which also provides enough material for a troupe of stand-up comics. It is a crowning achievement for one of the most remarkable comrades in the history of the British Communist movement. --Morning Star

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published