Monday, August 11, 2014

In memory of Bill Webster, fighter, friend, comrade

Bill Webster passed away August 8th 2014 in Northern Ireland.

It is a rainy day here in Chicago where I now live. These kind of days I call Irish days. They make me homesick and sad. But they also in a way bring me some nurturing. Today I am experiencing all these feelings only more so. This is because I have just heard that my very good friend and Comrade back home in Derry has just died. I weep here as I sit watching the rain come down. 

I first met Bill in the early 1970's. He was an industrial organizer for a union in London England and a member of the CWI. He helped convince me to join that organization. He later moved to Northern Ireland where with his wonderful companion and fellow trade unionist and revolutionary socialist, Eileen, they fought the fight. 

Bill was a revolutionary socialist, a Trotskyist. He was a man of principle. He was unyielding in his stand against religious sectarianism. He never flinched from the fight for working class unity and socialism. He played a major role in the leadership of the Derry Trades Council and the unions in the North and in Ireland as a whole. Always refusing to be cowed by the bosses or the union leadership. Never bought, never broken; that was Bill. 

I have many memories of times with Bill, some political and some personal. At the time of the UWC sectarian strike Bill and I went into East Belfast and gave out flyers against the strike. I had an old car at the time with Dublin plates so nobody could be confused about where we came from. We were approached by three large men. But after an altercation they withdrew possibly thinking that anybody mad enough to do what we were doing needed mental help more than anything else. They may have been right. Bill and I wiped our brows. Bill was a man of courage. 

Bill and I spent some time together raising support and money for the British miners strike. On one occasion we were working with a few miners one of whom was well over six foot tall. Bill was, as those of us who knew him know, only about five foot eight and thin as a rake. This miner made a derogatory sexist remark about a woman who was trying to get help for the strike. Bill turned on this man and savaged him. The man held his head in shame. I was very proud of Bill on that day. Bill was not a man to let anybody get away with anything.  

When I was getting expelled from the CWI, Bill traveled to Chicago to see if what was being said about me was true. He was the only member of that organization who came to see me or contacted me to hear my point of view. After his visit Bill concluded that what was being said about me by the leadership of the CWI and its supporters in Ireland and elsewhere was lies and slander.  He also concluded that I was being treated unjustly by being denied my right to appeal against my expulsion. Bill returned home and against my advice resigned from the CWI in principle. He would not be associated with its dirty methods. Thank you Bill. 

I had some beautiful personal moments with Bill. One day we sat by my mother’s grave at the old graveyard in Lifford and had a picnic. Bill said it was a peaceful day. On another occasion Bill, my companion Bonnie and I visited Grianan Aileach the old ring fort outside Derry. Bill picked a bunch of heather for Bonnie. We still have it here in our home in Chicago. Bonnie described Bill as "gallant," and "kind" and "respectful" towards her. 

When Bill was here in Chicago we went to eat in my favorite Jewish deli. It was lunchtime and the place was packed with Jewish families adults and children. There was a great buzz of chatter. It was like an Irish pub without the alcohol. Bill and I looked around and I said Bill think about those Nazi F...'s killing all those Jewish people. And we both wept. Then we looked at each other and laughed. We were thinking that nobody in that deli would have believed that there were two men, one from Liverpool and one from Donegal, weeping together for the Jewish people. If Bill was here today he would have been able to keep his bearings, opposing the slaughter of the Palestinian people by Zionism while at the same time standing against anti Semitism. 

Of course Bill had his demons. We all do. I have mine. Sometimes those closest to us suffer most from our demons. But I have no doubt that all would agree that Bill not only was a revolutionary fighter but also was a very kind man. I am honored and my life has been made better by knowing him. My thoughts and regards to Eileen and all Eileen and  Bill's family.  

Comradely, John Throne. (Sean)


Anonymous said...

well done John -I'm moved

Clem McCloskey said...

I remember him as a man of true courage and also a man who loved a laugh. He will be truly missed. Thank you John for your moving words

Pádraig said...

Bill was a very fine man. Well said John.