Fitting tribute

Rob Dawber - An injury to one is an injury to all - Workers' Liberty, 2002, pp28, £1

Rob Dawber, a member of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty and an RMT activist, lost his struggle against mesothelioma in February last year. He was killed by the greed of the capitalist system: his employers deliberately ignored the safety risks of working with the asbestos which caused his condition. Comrade Dawber experienced the wretched working conditions in what some regard as the 'golden age' of British Rail. As we are reminded in Sean Matgamna's introduction, "working for railways under British Rail was no picnic" (p3). Indeed, it was the working conditions under BR that cost Rob his life. Though BR's chief medical officer said as far back as 1973 that exposure to white asbestos could cause mesothelioma, supervisors were still insisting that it was "safe" a decade later. Rob was a tireless campaigner against privatisation. The Socialist Alliance carries on the fight for a rail network under the democratic control of workers and passengers - an idea that "Rob fought for all his life" (p3). The pamphlet opens with a selection of comrade Dawber's writings for the numerous rank and file bulletins produced by Socialist Organiser (the AWL's antecedents) for railworkers. These bulletins were used to attempt to organise rank-and-file railworkers in various struggles: from solidarity with the miners to the fight against privatisation. Here are some lessons that are particularly apposite as we move towards our first alliance trade union conference on March 16. Ritualistic denunciations of the union bureaucracy have often formed the staple of the propaganda and 'agitation' of left groups in the unions. However, as Dawber points out, "Denouncing the leadership, condemning their failings, exposing their machinations and manoeuvrings is necessary but easy enough. We must instead begin to take control" (p13). Failure to do so gives the union bureaucracy the breathing space to commit the treachery it finds natural. We have seen in the past how the leaders of the RMT have been all too willing to compromise instead of taking forwards the struggles of the rank and file. And they will do so again. Though we may critically support the likes of Bob Crow, the importance of rank-and-file organisation is not diminished but enhanced. We must make sure that such leadership delivers on its promises and only support it to the extent that it acts in the interests of the membership. Extracts from a serialised article written by comrade Dawber on Jesus are a welcome inclusion. Though unfortunately only the beginning and end are included. As such they fit together awkwardly. More would have been appreciated, though I am sure that the AWL will receive requests for the full article. Comrade Dawber's own reports on his fight for compensation and the production of the acclaimed film, The Navigators, round the pamphlet off. After a court case that lasted three of the eight days allocated Rob was awarded £450,000. Seemingly a large amount of money until you remember the final price he paid. Following on from his victory, he set to work on writing The Navigators. Produced by Ken Loach, the film follows a group of track workers through the travails of privatisation. As the scriptwriter, comrade Dawber was able to effectively translate his experience from real life onto the screen. Unsurprisingly, Rob was intimately involved in the production process as a technical adviser, though this was not the full extent of his involvement: he played a small part in the film as an extra. Part of the script for this episode is included in the pamphlet - comrade Dawber's humanity and compassion is visible through the dry humour of this section. Rob Dawber fought tenaciously for the working class cause to the end. This pamphlet is a contribution to that cause and in that it is a fitting tribute. Derek Goodliffe