Fearless fighter second to none
By Jeremy Dewar
IT WAS with great sadness that supporters of Workers Power heard of the untimely death of Dave Lewis from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer.
He will be mourned by a great number of people: in the LGBT+ liberation movement, the miners and their relatives, members of the Transport Salaried Staff Association, the tenants and residents associations and wider housing movement and Camberwell & Peckham Labour Party.
He touched the lives of many comrades in these varied movements. More importantly he got things done.
Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners
I first met Dave in September 2014 when our Left Unity branch invited him and Ray Goodspeed to speak about their experiences with LGSM in the great miners’ strike of 1984-85.
As founder members of this organisation, since made famous by the film Pride, Dave, Ray and others battled against not only the prejudices they encountered among striking miners but also anti-working class prejudices within the LGBT+ community, centred around Soho. They won over hearts and minds with their relentless hard work, eventually being entrusted with child-minding duties while miners and their wives attended meetings, a then unheard of sign of trust.
They raised thousands of pounds for the miners and, despite being initially banned from marching as a contingent on the annual Pride demo, were finally recognised as an important moment in the struggle for equality.
At this time, Dave was among a small number of LGBT+ supporters of Militant Tendency in the Young Socialists. Dave not only won support for LGBT+ recognition in the deeply homophobic far left group, in 1988 he went on to spearhead the fight against the Tories’ Section 28 in the equally homophobic Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party.
As a lifelong railworker and never afraid to take a lead, Dave was elected Secretary of the Waterloo TSSA branch, where he was involved in battles against privatisation. But it was the tragic Lakanal House fire on Sceaux Gardens estate on 3 July 2009 that drew Dave into his next great battle.
Six tenants died and 20 others were injured that day. Dave lived two blocks down on the estate and witnessed the fire in horror, as did I, watching the flames leap higher and higher by the minute. The reason for this was inflammable cladding, a deadly prelude to Grenfell, which burned in the same way eight years later.
The tenants chose Dave to put their case in the inquiry against Southwark Council, who knew the blocks, including Dave’s, were at risk but did nothing. The council was eventually fined £270,000 in 2017.
I remade Dave’s acquaintance in 2015 when we both rejoined the Labour Party after Jeremy Corbyn’s election. The moribund CLP, Camberwell & Peckham was run by a vicious right wing, who used every trick in the book to block the left, who more than doubled the local membership.
But this was in vain. In 2016 we took control of the local party, with Dave standing victoriously for the position of Secretary. He gathered a competent team around him and pursued a remorseless campaign against the right and incumbent MP Harriet Harman.
When Dave was re-elected, Harman decided to boycott her own CLP meetings, rather than face the monthly ordeal of hostile questions from GC delegates. Eventually, however, the right got the knives out and suspended Dave and several other leading figures. Months turned into years without a word about his case and Dave eventually resigned, like thousands of others.
I remember Dave telling me at the time, ‘You see, what they don’t understand is, I don’t care what they do to me.’ The working class boy from South London had learned lessons about standing up to power from his days fighting homophobia and Thatcher’s government and never forgot them. He was a fearless fighter in that sense.
Although Dave turned his back on Ted Grant’s Militant, scornful of their lack of a plan to win over the forces of the mass Labour movement, resorting to crude boosterism, he retained a clear understanding of the state and reformism’s fatal illusions in bourgeois democracy. I will leave to Dave the last words, quoted in the book Pride:
‘If anyone reading this still believes that the British State is liberal, plural, benign or paternal, please look to see how that State machine was treating the striking miners in 1984. And then take our story with you into future battles – because you need to know what you’re up against in order to stand a chance of victory.’
Our sincere condolences go to Dave’s husband, Alan, who survives him.