Socialist Party Scotland - 9th January 2018
Socialist Party Scotland comrades were shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Ray Gunnion, just before Christmas. Ray had been a dedicated and self-sacrificing member of Socialist Party Scotland and its predecessor Militant for three decades. Born and brought up in the Bridgeton area of Glasgow, he was already a qualified teacher when he joined with Militant in the 1980s. From then Ray was active as a socialist fighter, particularity in Lanarkshire, a committed trade unionist and member of the Educational Institute of Scotland – the largest of the teachers’ unions in Scotland.
The anti-poll tax campaign of the late 80s and early 90s – which was spearheaded by Militant – saw Ray exemplify his dedication to the struggles of working class people. As a member of the Bellshill anti-poll tax union he would regularly leave the school he was teaching at during a free period to rush to the homes of poll tax non-payers when they were threatened with a visit from the Sheriff’s Officer. It was the actions of people like Ray Gunnion that ensured attempts to defeat mass non-payment of the poll tax through poindings and Warrant Sales were doomed to fail.
Ray went on to also play a leading role in the Lanarkshire United health campaign, opposing the threats to downgrade Accident and Emergency units in the area. And also against cuts to council jobs and services in the region. Gordon Martin, the Regional Organiser of the RMT union, remembers: “The campaign to save the A&E units in Lanarkshire saw Ray playing a very active role. From occupying the health board’s head office to leading the march from Coatbridge while I led the one from Airdrie. We converged at Monklands hospital with a demonstration in support of our health service.”
Nor was Ray a stranger to standing in elections. He was the socialist candidate for the Motherwell and Wishaw seat as a Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) representative in the 2010 general election. The late Bob Crow of the RMT railworkers union came to Scotland to endorse Ray and the other Scottish TUSC candidates at a press conference to launch the election campaign, commenting: “Ray has a tremendous track record of fighting for working class communities over many years and has played a key role in defending essential local services.” Ray’s candidature was supported by the RMT nationally as well as the Motherwell and Wishaw RMT branch.
Yet perhaps Ray Gunnion’s most important contribution to the Marxist movement in Scotland was the dozen years – following 2001 – in which he tenaciously strove to rebuild the ranks of Militant – soon to be Socialist Party Scotland. Many of the leading figures in Scottish Militant had left our international organisation, the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), over differences on whether it was necessary to maintain a distinct Marxist organisation while also building broader left, socialist parties. Ray was one of a handful of members in the West of Scotland who continued to defend the ideas and programme of revolutionary socialism and the CWI. The achievements of Socialist Party Scotland – today an important factor in the working class movement – is in no small part due to Ray’s contribution, alongside his comrades. For that alone he deserves a respected place in our collective history.
Ray became well known in the CWI, attending the Summer School in Belgium and also visiting Ireland to work in the election campaign for Socialist Party comrades. Socialist Party member Ruth Coppinger TD (MP) recalls: “Ray came to Ireland in 2004 to volunteer to help us in our election challenge. He gave generously of his time, recognising the international nature of the socialist struggle. He worked with comrades in Dublin West who remember him as totally diligent and reliable, very friendly and easy going. All remember him really fondly.”
When the political leaders of world capitalism came to the G8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005, members of the CWI organised a model intervention into the mass mobilisations over that week. In particular the 100,000-strong “Make Poverty History” demonstration in Edinburgh saw CWI comrades from across Britain and Europe stand out, literally, with our red “Make Capitalism History” t-shirts and banners and socialist message. Ray was central to the success of the CWI’s anti-G8 camp that week at Strathclyde Park. His organisational capabilities ensured that the vital work required to set-up and maintain the smooth running of the camp was carried out. Ray’s daily trips to Aldi supermarket for food and supplies will long be remembered. As will his exemplary refereeing of the CWI football tournament that week.
Golf, football, music – especially Jazz – and single malt whisky were also Ray’s passions. He was more than happy to share a tipple or two with comrades at political events, along with an explanation as to where it came from and why that particular malt tasted the way it did.
Many who knew Ray Gunnion have spoken of his generosity, his willingness to help others and as someone who took time to listen. Tracy Edwards, a full time organiser for the PCS union, remembers: “When I first joined the Socialist Party, Ray was instrumental in integrating me into the Glasgow branch and gaining an understanding of the need to stay grounded. When I moved to London to work for the union the only thing he asked of me was ‘just make us proud’. I loved him and loved being in the branch with him. He was interesting, funny and solid. Such a wonderful man.”
Socialist Party Scotland will remember Ray Gunnion’s contribution. Our condolences go to Ray’s brother Paul, his sisters Cecile and Clare, his son Mark and granddaughter Amber, as well as all family, friends and comrades of Ray.
A tribute from Peter Taaffe (General Secretary, Socialist Party England and Wales and member of the International Secretariat of the CWI)
“It is with great regret that we learnt of the death of Ray Gunnion. We would like to convey our condolences to his family and his comrades in Socialist Party Scotland and the Scottish Labour movement.
Ray was an intrepid and courageous fighter for socialism, even in the difficult days that followed the collapse of Stalinism in the early 1990s and the ideological campaign against socialism which followed in its wake. He was a great supporter of the Socialist Party and the international organisation to which we are affiliated, the Committee for a Workers’ International.
Amongst Ray’s many attributes was his love of malt whisky, particularly the peerless Scottish brand in which he was an expert. He deepened my education in this field as well as other comrades like Alec Thraves in Wales. Sometimes after lengthy meetings, he would wax lyrical on the finer aspects and particularly best tastes. Above all, he was firmly committed to the democratic and liberating ideas of socialism in Scotland, Europe and the world.
We salute him – and will raise a ‘wee dram’ to the memory of Ray and hope that he is an example to the next generation in our common struggle for a socialist world.”
Ruth Coppinger TD (MP) Ireland
Dear family and friends of Ray,
I’d like to extend our sincere sympathies from the Socialist Party in Ireland on the death of Ray. Ray came to Ireland in 2004 to volunteer to help us in our election challenge.
He gave generously of his time, recognising the international nature of the socialist struggle. He worked with comrades in Dublin West who remember him as totally diligent and reliable, very friendly and easy going. All remember him really fondly.
We were all shocked and saddened at his sudden passing and know it must be especially hard for family, friends and comrades at Christmas time.
Please record our deepest sympathy and solidarity here in Ireland.
From Ruth Coppinger, Socialist Party Ireland
Gordon Martin RMT
I had the pleasure of working with Ray over a number of years as we built the Scottish Socialist Party* in Lanarkshire and beyond. Ray was always keen to assist workers or communities in struggle and led from the front on community campaigns from fighting the poll tax to fighting the health board and the then Labour Government to ensure all three accident and emergency units in Lanarkshire remained open.
The campaign to save the A&E units was a cross section of the community including the Trades Union Council, members of various political parties and concerned parents and grandparents. Ray played a very active role in this campaign from occupying the health boards head office to leading the march from Coatbridge while I led it from Airdrie and we converged at Monklands Hospital with a demonstration in support of our health service.
On a personal level I always enjoyed political discussions with Ray as well as a pint or two on occasion.
A good friend and comrade who will be sadly missed.
Gordon Martin. Regional Organiser RMT
* The CWI in Scotland were founding members of the SSP and worked as part of it until 2006