OBITUARY: Harry McLevy

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Harry McLevy - Scottish Regional Officer of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU) - was an outstanding trade union leader. He had a wealth of experience at the sharp end. Communist Party educated, he was one of the generation of outstanding shop steward convenors that emerged in the Sixties and early Seventies and so alarmed the Tory tabloid leader writers of the day one would have thought anarchy and revolution were around the corner. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

McLevy was born in 1936, in Dundee. His mother was a millworker and his father a plater's helper in the local shipyard. His childhood, whilst poor, was happy, surrounded as he was by a close-knit and loving family.

Dundee was a city of jute, jam, shipbuilding and engineering, with strong radical traditions. Its Labour movement, with Communist Party members in key leadership positions, was exceptionally well organised. The young McLevy, serving his apprenticeship as a fitter in the local engineering factory, joined and became active in the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU), whose local full-time officials and most of whose District Committee were Communist Party members. McLevy himself joined the Party, serving on its Scottish Committee and National Executive.

After an altercation with a foreman, McLevy migrated to the Clyde to finish his apprenticeship in time to play a leading role in the apprentices' strike of 1959 which spread nationwide, forcing the engineering and shipbuilding employers to raise substantially the very low wages apprentices received in those days.

After National Service McLevy returned to his native city, quickly establishing a reputation in local trade union circles as an extremely capable activist and a gifted orator. He became shop steward convenor at the Caledon shipyard, President of the AEU Dundee District Committee and, in the Seventies, a member of the union's powerful 52-man supreme policy-making body, the National Committee.

At that time, before mass unemployment and anti-union laws seriously weakened unions, the AEU National Committee was powerful, its decisions binding on all the members including the President (then Hughie Scanlon). The committee became a battleground between the traditional right and left machines in the union, the outcome of which was awaited with some concern by both Government and employers.

McLevy became the full-time AEU Dundee District Secretary in 1978, and its Scottish Regional Officer in 1984. (The AEU became the AEEU on its amalgamation six years later with the EPTU, the Electrical and Plumbing Trade Union.) In the same year he became a member of the Scottish Trade Union Congress's General Council, becoming its President two years ago. He played a crucial role in the campaign for a Scottish Parliament. McLevy was passionately committed to a Scottish Parliament long before it was the popular cause that it is today. He was no chauvinist, nor was he xenophobic. He believed that Scotland should remain in a reformed and democratic union as an equal partner.

Harry McLevy had a pawky sense of humour and over a dram or two would entertain his audience for hours. His humour could not hide a deep intelligence. He was also a cultured man, well and widely read, well versed in the radical history of Scotland and its people. McLevy was a kind man, and not vindictive. He detested the Tories for what they had done to his country and its working people, but he never detested Tories as individuals. He was courteous and considerate to all regardless of politics.

In the early Eighties McLevy left the Communist Party and joined the Labour Party. He did so without rancour. Whilst mellowing, he retained the values of his youth but recognised that the politics of democratic centralism had proved an abysmal failure. He remained on the Left, but he was not critical of Tony Blair's "New Labour" Party, believing that the main objective of the Labour movement was to defeat the Tories at the coming election, establish a Scottish Parliament and restore democratic rights to workers and their unions, and to forge alliances in order to rebuild Britain and prevent the Tories' return to government.

Over 600 people attended Harry McLevy's funeral service in Dundee last Saturday, from all walks of life and shades of opinion in Scotland.

Jimmy Airlie

Harry McLevy, trade unionist: born Dundee 28 August 1936; twice married (three sons, one daughter); died Dundee 24 December 1995.