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In tribute to Graham Stevenson – fighter for the working class

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary

GRAHAM STEVENSON was a large part of the life of our union for many years.  

He started work as a district officer in the T&G in Derby, and worked regionally for some years before becoming the national secretary for passenger services.  

Later he was the T&G’s national organiser for all the transport sectors, before retiring 10 years ago.

He will be remembered by our bus members in particular as a tireless fighter for their interests.

Graham was always active on the left, and was a long-time member of the Communist Party.  

He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of the trade-union movement and was also an expert on many aspects of public transport.

We extend our heartfelt condolences to his children Ben and Joanne and offer them all our support at this difficult time.  

When arrangements are made to collectively remember Graham, I will ensure that they are circulated in our union.

International Transport Workers’ Federation general secretary Stephen Cotton

Graham Stevenson left us on International Workers’ Day, May 1, at age 70. 

Graham was the ITF’s European vice-president in our executive board and the president of European Transport Workers Federation (ETF) until his retirement from his union, Unite the Union, 10 years ago.

Graham worked for many years as the district officer in the Transport & General Workers’ Union (T&G) in Derby before he was appointed as the T&G’s national secretary for passenger services. 

In June 1999, he became the union’s national organiser for all transport sectors, covering 240,000 workers. 

It was a position that he continued to hold after the T&G merged with Amicus to become Unite the Union in 2008.

From his first ITF Congress experience back in 1990 in Florence to his last attendance in 2010 in Mexico City, Graham took part in all congresses and made numerous contributions. 

He directed the ITF in our fight-back campaign against privatisation and deregulation of public transport services, to organise unorganised workers and to promote gender equality. 

In the ETF, he was instrumental in shaping the policy framework of the organisation from its foundations in 1999.

He was a true internationalist, whose network of unionists stemmed far beyond the UK, let alone his own union. 

And as a strong advocate of the ITF, he convinced unions to join our federation, including the American Service Employees Union when they were seeking assistance from the T&G in their dispute against an anti-union British multinational.

From his union, he introduced an amazing number of talented colleagues over the years to the works of the ITF and ETF.

While Graham joined our executive board in 2006, he always shared the union’s responsibilities in the ITF and ETF with his elected officials, members and staff.

Graham was also the chair of the joint (“parity”) committee of road transport employers & trade unions at the European level. 

In the UK, he chaired the UK & Republic of Ireland co-ordinating committee of ITF affiliates. 

He has sat on innumerable British TUC, government and non-governmental committees and boards, especially on matters of pensions, transport policy and vocational training and was a director of Go-Skills.

To honour his long years of service, Graham was awarded with the ITF gold badge in 2011.

As a lifelong communist, he remained a loyal member of the Communist Party of Britain, acting as its Greater Midlands district secretary and the convener of the Communist history group until cancer took away his life so cruelly.

Graham has maintained a comprehensive archive of his writings and speeches on his website.

He is survived by his two children, Ben and Joanne.

ITF president Paddy Crumlin

I join with many international working men and women and their unions, particularly ITF affiliates, officers and staff in extending our deepest sympathies on Graham Stevenson’s passing.  

In particular, we extend our heartfelt condolences to his children Joanne and Ben on their grievous loss.

I worked with Graham for many years on the ITF executive, as the European vice-president and president of the ETF, and also in his long tenure as an official of the Transport & General Workers’ Union and subsequently Unite the Union, where he had many senior roles within the union both prior to amalgamation and subsequently. 

Graham was held in the highest regard by all who worked with him.

Graham attended a number of ITF congresses and was among the most influential leadership of both his union and the ITF over many decades. 

That leadership brought a strong sense of class struggle and overriding commitment to social justice and equity, an incontestable dedication to universal peace, human and sovereign rights and genuine political and industrial democracy.

He was a trade unionist to his bones and lived a life of campaigning, organising and mass mobilisation in the defence of social and community values, including the fight against privatisation, industrial deregulation and discrimination in any form, but particularly on the basis of gender, age and ethnicity.

Comrade Stevenson was a communist in the true sense of the defined word. 

His industrial life rotated around the axle of class consciousness and struggle, not only in practice but intellectually and philosophically at a senior level. 

His work in the Communist Party through his broad and inclusive working groups, in his literature and blogs and the minutiae of his day-to-day activities and focus was pervasive, widely read and enormously respected within the communist and socialist movement. 

His leadership was both practical and constructive of the rights of the working class.

Graham had a soft and intellectual demeanour, greatly preferring a process of mature and respectful engagement over emotional rhetoric. 

His insight into the human condition was always tinged with a sense of empathy, compassion and irony that greatly added to the charisma of his company and the delivery of his message. 

He was a socially robust person of great good humour who enjoyed good company, good food and drink, and good discussions.

He was influential in encouraging me to stand for the presidency of the ITF and tremendously supportive of Steve Cotton’s candidacy for general secretary.

He was a loyal and consistent friend, colleague and comrade who had no hesitation to argue his point of view on its merits and was always consistently committed to the democratic considerations of the working-class forums, including the ITF, in which he held such senior leadership.

I know to his many comrades, particularly in Unite the Union, including Len McCluskey, Steve Turner and Diana Holland, his loss is heartfelt. 

On behalf of the ITF, I offer my and our deepest sympathies and condolences to our many comrades in that great and important union.

To Ben and Joanne: your father was a larger-than-life character in more ways than one, greatly respected and loved by all who knew the quality and depth of his character and values. 

Our last thoughts and conveyance of condolences are with you in the hope that it assists you through this period of great sadness.

Vale, Comrade Stevenson: trade unionist, communist, worker of great repute and unchallengeable commitment to working-class values, a man of peace, family and community. Now at rest.

Mac Urata, senior policy officer, International Transport Workers Federation

We often think that class struggle is a war that the working class wage against the capitalists. 

But armed with neoliberal dogma and policies, they have been on the offensive for several decades. 

And it was people like Graham Stevenson who stressed that we would lose out if we sought concessions from our bosses under such political climate. 

As a firm believer in promoting international solidarity of the working people, Graham warned our transport unions around the world about the consequences of privatisation and deregulation, for example in the UK bus sector. 

He pressed the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) to fight back, not to compromise. And we did, under the slogan “Fatigue Kills.” 

He also brought together unionists across the big pond to campaign against a British multinational that did not respect workers in the US. 

Now they do. He held a very senior position in the ITF, but the rest of responsibilities that his union had in the ITF, he shared with his elected officials, members and staff — something that not all of us can do, but I firmly believe that it made the ITF strong, and we owe him a huge appreciation. 

Rest in peace, Graham. We will pick up the fight where you have left off.  

Martin Mayer, previous chair of the United Left

Graham was a tour de force in the TGWU and later Unite leadership: a strategist, an organiser and a redoubtable fountain of knowledge and political thinker. 

He influenced the direction we took as a union and played a very important role in support of our lay member-led TGWU Broad Left and today’s United Left. 

He was committed to lay-member democracy and cultivated and supported lay members to take leading roles on behalf of the union on outside bodies including the ETF and ITF. 

His compassion and good humour endeared him to many, and his qualities and his great contributions earned him respect and admiration far and wide. 

I’ve lost a great friend and ally and the trade-union movement, both here in the UK and internationally, have a lost a remarkable fighter for the working class.  

Graham did stand for deputy leader of the TGWU with the Broad Left’s backing in 2004 but was easily defeated by Jack Dromey. 

Nevertheless, he was the best deputy leader we never had, and would have been a tremendous influence for the left if he had succeeded.


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