My friend Ian Rez died this morning. He was rushing to get to a meeting. He had a massive heart attack, and died shortly afterwards.
Ian was one of those amazing trade unionists who keeps going, and going, and going. He was a Left activist in ASTMS, MSF, Amicus and most recently in Unite. Ian told me sometimes, ‘You’ve got to slow down, Gill, or you’ll burn out’ – but he probably didn’t take his own advice.
I first met Ian probably in 1996, when I started working in the NHS and joined MSF. Ian at the time was an absolute stalwart of the union: in the Left at regional and national level, in the NHS, and in London. There were rival Left groups in MSF at the time – Ian, typically, was active in both of them.
Ian had worked in the NHS for over 40 years. He pretty much retired about a year ago, but couldn’t bring himself to stop his union work. He carried on working part time at North Middlesex Hospital, mostly to keep Staff Side going and to build Unite. He got his 30 year badge at Health Conference 2006. Ian could be cynical sometimes, and downright furious when he saw corruption or political cowardice at the top of our movement – but he was so proud to be recognised for his 30 years of union activity. His speech when he was given the badge was along the lines of, ‘Amicus is a brilliant union, but we must never lose sight of our members. Go back and recruit more reps!’
Ian was never a passenger in the union movement. He was a fighter, someone who had been involved in every battle going over a very long time. He used to joke about Clive Jenkins, former General Secretary of ASTMS. Jenkins made some particularly nasty attack on the Left at a union conference many, many years ago, denouncing Ian and others as ‘the termites of our movement’. Ian was tickled pink. He called himself ‘Terry the Termite’, and cheerfully used this as a by-line in union publications.
I’ve been thinking today about all the different campaigns that Ian was a part of. There were different strands to his activity: socialism and social justice, a relentless battle for lay control in the union, and simple, straightforward, passionate industrial trade unionism.
We argued about politics sometimes. Ian was a Labour Party member for a long time, but left in disgust as Blair and New Labour triumphed. He rejoined the Labour Party to support John McDonnell’s bid for Labour leader. I argued you could support John McDonnell outside the Labour Party, Ian strongly disagreed – but actually it didn’t matter. Ian was never sectarian. He had an open and honest approach to politics and to all his work in the union. People really liked and respected Ian – partly because of his conspicuous honesty and unwavering principles, and also because he was just a really nice bloke.
Another of Ian’s big fights was around Ken Livingstone’s initial bid to become Mayor of London. Back in 2000, the Labour Party stopped MSF members having a vote on who to nominate – Blair, of course, backed Frank Dobson, and didn’t want union members to overturn his choice. Ian was one of a group of prominent MSF members who took legal action to try and force Labour to allow us a vote. The case failed, and there was a savage witch hunt inside the union against those who had dared to challenge. The hostility faced by Ian and colleagues would have destroyed many of us. Ian just got on with being a trade union activist.
Ian had absolute contempt for General Secretaries and National Executive members who get caught up in the trade union ‘gravy train’. He was scornful of Roger Lyons, former General Secretary of MSF, and Lyons’ questionable use of the union credit card. He stood by those who were victimised by Lyons. More recently, he expressed real fury at the Amicus NEC members who voted themselves a ‘jolly’ in Cuba at the members’ expense. I could not in a million years imagine Ian being personally corrupt.
Ian hated injustice, and did so not passively but as an activist. I remember marching with Ian on countless demonstrations, and he kept on marching even as his health deteriorated over the last couple of years. In particular, Ian steadfastly opposed the war in Iraq. He was also appalled by the Government’s attacks on the NHS, and a stout defender of a publicly owned and controlled health service.
Above all, Ian was a trade unionist. He believed that unions belong to their members – a belief that was central to his vision of trade unionism.
Ian was victimised for trade union activity, and sacked from his job many years ago. It didn’t stop him. He got another job, picked up the pieces, and carried on as a union rep. He did all the practical boring day to day work that doesn’t get you any glory but delivers for members in the workplace.
I found an old posting from Ian on a union email list. It was about the Agenda for Change pay deal in the NHS. This was sold to us with the claim that only a few union members would lose, but most of us would gain. Ian’s comment? He said, ‘As trade unionists we cannot just be concerned with our own self-interest. The principle that the strong always protected the weak still holds true in 2004. That’s why the AfC deal must be rejected’. It was that belief that inspired Ian across 30 years as a trade unionist.
Ian was a comrade – a socialist and a trade unionist, and a very decent human being. I’ll miss him.