Mick Shaw: Firefighter, union leader and anti-racist
Friday 04 May 2012
Mick Shaw was a firefighter by profession, but it was in fighting racism and the rise of the far right in British politics that he first made his name.
Firemen against the Nazis was founded by Shaw and others in 1978 in response to the National Front's local election successes. From then on Shaw, who went on to become President of the Fire Brigades Union, would remain a major force in the battle against the far right as he also fought to get better pay and conditions for his fellow firefighters.
Shaw joined the Fire Brigade in 1977 and over the next 30 years he combined his work as a fireman and as an official of the FBU with studying at university, a quest for further education which lasted all his life. He had become interested in politics as a schoolboy in Romford, Essex – his uncle Ron Leighton was the Labour MP for Newham North-East. An avid reader in his early teens, he was greatly influenced by The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist. He became an early rebel against authority, earning himself the family nickname of "Citizen Smith" after television's suburban revolutionary of the time.
He was expelled from grammar school and it was only later, when working as a fireman, that he would return at the age of 26 to education, studying economics and history at Coleg Harlech in Wales on a two-year leave of absence, then law part-time at Birkbeck University, graduating with a 2:1 in 2006.
His first job was working for a year on the railways, but he left to join the London Fire Brigade, and remained in their employ for the rest of his life, although much of the time would find him working on secondment to the FBU. His involvement with the union began straightaway; along with others at the Southwark training centre he found himself caught up in the national strike for better wages and hours in November 1977. The dispute was settled two months later with a pay rise of 10 per cent. Over 30,000 fire fighters were involved and they received widespread support from members of the public. The unity of the strike was to leave a lasting impression upon Shaw as he qualified and joined the Shoreditch Fire Station, moving on later to the Plaistow station.
In 1977 the National Front beganmaking inroads into local politics in east London, winning some 100,000 votes. Shaw, who had played an active role in the strike, was quick to mobilise opposition along with other members of the FBU, forming the organisation Firemen Against the Nazis. The FBU became one of the moving forces in the trade-union response to the NF; battles between Nazis and anti-Nazis were often violent.
Gerry Gable, the veteran campaigner against racism and editor of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, remembered: "We had long-term connections with Mick. He was much admired for taking a strong stand against racism, despite being physically threatened. His entire life was dedicated to his fellow workers and combating fascism and racism."
Through out the 1980s and '90s the Fire Brigade faced severe cuts in services with many stations being closed. The return of a Labour government made little difference, with the proportion of spending on the fire and rescue services dropping. The following year Shaw was elected as FBU president. He had been heavily involved in the campaigns against cuts and in the negotiations, working closely with Matt Wrack, the current General Secretary.
"Negotiations could be difficult," Wrack recalled. "I was struck by how calm Mick always was and how he conducted himself. As president he brought a calmness and dignity to proceedings. He was a thinker, and because of his studies he knew a lot about the history of the Labour movement and brought a broad view to what was happening, managing to keeping things in context."
In 2007 Shaw, an active supporter of Latin American solidarity, made his first trip to Cuba, falling in love with its politics and culture. In 2011, on his retirement, and shortly before being diagnosed with cancer, he returned to study at the University of the Orient in Santiago de Cuba.
Michael Shaw, fireman, trade unionist and anti-fascist activist: born Romford, Essex 23 April 1958; married 1979 Wendy (divorced 1980), 1984 Gwen (one son and one daughter); died Romford 1 April 2012.
Oscar Pistorius trial: Defence's own witness contradicts athlete's version of events
Oscar Pistorius trial: The case against Oscar Pistorius – and why the prosecution claims his story doesn't add up
Almost 40m gallons of drinking water discarded – because a man urinated in it
Peaches Geldof funeral: Private ceremony to be held at same place as her mother Paula Yates on Easter Monday
Shropshire criminals ‘using unmanned drones and infrared cameras to find illegal cannabis farms’ – and then steal from the growers
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
Nigel Farage on Have I Got News For You: Ukip leader ridiculed over expenses and party 'fruitcakes'
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back
- 1 Are you turning into your dad? The top ten signs you've embraced dad-ism revealed as survey says 38 is age men turn into their father
- 2 Overheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
- 3 Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'
- 4 24 people applied for the 'world's toughest job', here are their interviews
- 5 Grace Dent on TV: Game of Thrones has jumped the shark
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...
£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...