It is with a heavy heart that we report the tragic passing of one of the labour movement’s most staunch defenders and activists. In South East Northumberland, in particular in his home town of Ashington, John McCormack was first and foremost a socialist; a working class fighter; a dedicated member of the labour and trade union movement, who rose to become this year’s national president-elect of his union the UCU (University and College Union).
His private family life was just that, very private and we send our condolences to his family members at what must be a most distressing time. His death was a sudden shock to those who did not know he was struggling with his health. His illness took him quickly and has left many a friend and comrade shocked and deeply saddened. At a recent meeting of the SE Northumberland Trades Council he seemed his normal self, full of ideas and suggestions, although his friend and comrade Kathy Taylor says he was complaining then of aches and pains in his hip which he put down to old age, but did not want to bother anyone with it as there were more important things to be getting on with. Either way, this sudden loss reminds those of us who knew him of the achievements he made down the years and the leadership and inspiration which he brought to the local labour movement.
He started his political activities way back in the 70’s as a shop steward in a local engineering factory and later became the convenor of the plant leading the AEU union (now UNITE) members in a successful dispute. He became a local councillor and eventually the leader of Wansbeck District Council in the 90’s. He later began lecturing on trades union studies in his local FE college and became known across SE Northumberland as a tower of trades union expertise and strength in the local movement - including his work as Chair of his UCU branch. He continued on, becoming more involved in trades council work, convinced that any change in society would come through the unions and was always convinced of the power and strength of the movement if armed with a socialist programme.
John fulfilled many roles within the movement but one of his last was to become mayor of his home town of Ashington. John never left his home town and could have quite easily been tempted away due to his enormous talent, but he decided to stay with his roots and to play any role in the movement from his home base. This always informed his rank and file nature, a reaffirmation of his personal socialism and a demonstration of his comfort to remain with his comrades, his town and his class. In many ways, John McCormack was Mr Ashington, born and bred and a through-and-through stalwart of the movement. Although we had some disagreements over this or that policy, or this or that approach, John always remained a friend and comrade, always bought a paper and was always on hand to offer support and advice. The movement is now much smaller and less well equipped with his passing in the short term, but has been made bigger and stronger through his life-long contribution.
John will be missed by all who knew him!
Farewell old friend and comrade! The fight for socialism will continue!
Steve Brown, Wansbeck CLP (Personal capacity); Barry Purdy, Northumberland UNISON (Personal capacity)
I met John on many occasions at conferences of NATFHE (one of the forerunners of the UCU) and then at UCU congresses as well as at many of the annual national conferences of trade union councils where I went as a delegate from Coventry TUC. It was through one of these meetings that John invited me to the local FE College in Ashington to speak on the Bolivarian revolution underway in Venezuela, as I had not long come back from an extensive political tour there.
I enjoyed many a chat with John for despite his history and role in the labour and trade union movement he was a very humble, kind and approachable comrade who always had time for fellow activists. We had a lot in common – decades of work in the movement and the fight for socialism through the mass organisations of our class, and that includes the Labour Party. When approached to buy a copy of Socialist Appeal at congress John had two responses – he would either buy one or say that he had his delivered by Steve. Whichever way, he always had one.
I shall miss him enormously at future congresses of UCU and UCU will be much poorer for his passing, not only for his ideas and organisational skills but also for his passionate and accomplished oratorical skills. He knew how to light up an audience!
Comrades like John are rare in our movement. As they say in German, “Er war ein richtiger Mensch” – “He was a real human being.” My heartfelt thoughts go out to Kathy.
Darrall Cozens, UCU, West Midlands
Internment at North Seaton Cemetery on Monday 23rd December at 1.45pm for family and close friends only.
A memorial occasion for all will be held at 2pm at Ashington Football Club on the same day. All welcome.