Tom Cashman has died of a brain tumour aged 64. He was a life-long socialist and militant trade union activist, who had a long connection to the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and its predecessors.
Tom came from a family in Wallasey on Merseyside with Irish roots and labour movement involvement. He joined Workers’ Fight (precursor of the AWL) in 1973 while a student at Middlesex Polytechnic and subsequently recruited his brothers Mick, Tony and Peter and briefly his sister Liz.
Unusually for student leftists at that time, Tom was already working in the Labour Party and was an early member of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. He was also active in Irish solidarity work in the 70s, particularly in WF’s critical intervention in the Troops Out Movement.
For most of his working life Tom worked as a bus driver, mostly in Surrey. He built up a base in the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), paying close attention to workplace issues. He went from being a garage rep to chair of the Central Bus Committee and then on to various national passenger transport committees in the union. He was one of two key people who devised the plan that kept union organisation on London buses going after privatisation. He was elected to the General Executive Council of the TGWU in the early 90s as part of the United Left, was on the joint executive negotiating the merger with Amicus, and re-elected in the new union Unite.
Tom did not abandon his principles as he took on these positions. He rejected the offer of a job in the union, which would have been better paid and better for his health, as he believed that lay members not officials should control the union and that to represent his co-workers he had to stay “on the job”.
He also fought for his politics openly and without concern that they would bring him into conflict with the mainstream left in the union — one example being his consistent opposition to anti-EU left nationalism, which he spoke against at one TGWU Conference. That reflects Tom’s personality — that he always stated his views, bluntly and without diplomacy but with no personal malice. He was always prepared to have the argument even if he was in a minority but difficult to convince if he did not agree.
Though Tom did not remain in the AWL, he remained friendly to AWL comrades and acted as a valuable source of advice and information on labour movement issues. The independent working class politics he preached over 40 years drew on the group’s ideas. His great strength was to fuse those ideas with a serious and practical orientation to the labour movement. That made him more than either a trade union militant or a propagandist left activist. Tom persisted with his activism and involvement in the class struggle to the end of his life having made his commitment at a young age. We should take his life as an example.
This brief sketch cannot do full justice to Tom’s life and contribution. Solidarity will carry a further article in the next issue and welcomes contributions from others who knew him.
We send our condolences to his partner Johnnie, his daughter Ruth, his family, friends and comrades.