“To celebrate [my life] as a Trotskyist is the biggest thing I have…” speaking at an International Socialist League meeting in May 2010.
Bill was born in 1920, into a miner’s family in Durham. His harsh experience of the slump and the effects it had on his family and community was an important factor in shaping who he was.
He told us many times that his father said repeatedly “Leaders always let you down”, referring to the 1920s, and the General Strike, of 1926, which the TUC called and then let the Tories starve the miners back to work.
Bill was a great story teller, and he never tired of telling the story of the plant pot, which is also in his autobiography. One day at his school a teacher pointed to the world map on the classroom wall and said “Look at the world map, everything that is red we own”. Bill went home and told his father what the teacher had said. His father pointed at a plant pot in the room and said “Look lad. The only part of the earth we own is in that pot”.
Moving to London
Due to mass unemployment Bill was sent to London under the Ministry of Labour transfer scheme and started to work in an engineering factory in London in 1936. In 1939, he joined a Trotskyist group. During the war, Bill was a convenor in the Chrysler aircraft factory with a mainly female workforce.
In 1952, he was a borough councillor in Islington, and then in 1954, he, his wife Rae, Harry Finch and two others were expelled from the National Executive of the Labour Party for socialist opinions. They were part of the leadership of the Labour party in East Islington and in Norwood. They fought to have a socialist foreign policy and a domestic programme to end capitalism. They were expelled because they were Trotskyists and had fought to develop the Labour Party left Socialist Outlook paper which linked with the class struggles.
He was secretary of CAV-Lucas Joint Shop Stewards Committee from 1966-72, and a delegate to Liverpool TUC, he remained an honorary member of Liverpool Trades Council. Bill had always retained a close connection with the dock workers movements, and in particular, its unofficial movements in the unofficial strikes from the 1950s, and helped in the break to the Blue Union in Merseyside and elsewhere. He was a staunch supporter of the Liverpool dock workers’ dispute of 1995-98 and visited a dock workers union in Santos, Brazil, to build support.
In 1979, he helped form a Joint Trade Union Inquiry into Allegations of Police Violence and was a member of the Liverpool 8 Defence Committee.
He won support in 1982 for a resolution against the Malvinas (Falklands) war in the Trades Council. Two years later he and Rae started the Liverpool 8 miners support group.
Founding the ISL
In 1988, he and Martin Ralph helped form the International Socialist League and left the Workers Revolutionary Party. The ISL joined the International Workers League-Fourth International because of the refusal of most of the WRP leaders to consider joining a real living International, and in line with the Transitional Programme and the Permanent Revolution
Bill was on the leading body of the IWL, the International Executive Committee, until the mid-1990s. He continues to be very much respected by those who knew him inside the IWL. The moving tributes and interesting tributes we received from four continents illustrate the worldwide respect held for Bill.
He travelled many times to Europe and Latin America and participated in the internal life of the IWL from the moment he joined, writing many documents in the struggle as he often said, “to turn to the questions of the mass movement.”
During the war against Afghanistan and then Iraq he participated in the first anti-war meeting in Liverpool in 2001 and attended regularly. He was one of the first to express opposition to the “war on terror” as a cover for the US and Britain’s war for oil and control and saw the biggest terrorists in the world as the USA establishment, followed by Britain.
The ﬁght against Reformism and Stalinism
A 100s years since the 1917 October Russian Revolution will be celebrated in 2017, and we will use Bill’s material because he studied deeply and wrote extensively on the October revolution. In 1991 he wrote a pamphlet called “Towards Capitalism or Socialism”, when at the time it was not clear if the working class in Russia would, through their own struggles, be able to lead the struggle for socialism at that point.
The end of the Soviet Union had a profound effect on all those fighting for Marxism and Bill took up the struggle against all the bourgeois theories and the so-called “end of history” with the Trotskyist Tendency and in alliance with the Reconstruction Tendency inside the International Workers League. He was determined to continue to struggle for the outlook of the Permanent Revolution, a world organisation based on democratic centralism.
Bill’s life was dedicated to the fight against capitalism, against the Labour Party, trade union and Stalinist bureaucracies and for the Fourth International.
We have in front of us as we write this obituary many of the writings of Bill Hunter, and many tributes that we have received. We thank all who wrote, they confirm that comrades living in many countries saw that Bill was a working class fighter, a Trotskyist and international leader loved by many comrades and friends who will continue Bill’s lifelong struggle.
Bill never lost his faith in the working class, Marxism or Trotskyism or his humour.
That is due to the huge obstacles created by the Labour government that workers face when claiming benefit, begin to reflect the draconian measures of the 1930s.
Criminalisation of workers and Islamophobia
There are three laws that pose a great danger to the working class: anti-trade union laws, immigration controls and the so-called ‘anti-terror’ laws. The main purpose of those laws is to reinforce and maintain the division of the working class, increase a climate of ‘fear’ and suspicion, and blame ‘others’ for the economic crisis, unemployment and destruction of services.
Anti-terror laws have been used against a picketing building worker, campaigners travelling to the Copenhagen climate change protest and other peaceful protestors.
However, the majority of union leaderships has failed to respond and are ignoring these attacks. These laws are ready to be applied to each and every person in Britain and will be used to criminalise the whole of the working class when necessary.
Working Class Struggles
As this article was being written an unofficial strike began near Liverpool of shipyard workers who were opposing the threat of sackings due to declining orders. A number of strikes against attacks on education have been successful, which received huge support from the local communities.
British Airways cabin staff are about to carry out a five-day strike, following a successful appeal on a previous judgement that the strike was ‘illegal’. These and other currently unconnected struggles are an expression of the growing discontent that exists beneath an apparently ‘tranquil’ surface.
The period of slump, with its ebbs and flows, driven by international developments and Britain’s place in the world opens up a revolutionary period.
On the surface, Britain appears a huge distance from that, but to base a prognosis on surface events would be to fall for the old enemy of Marxism, British empiricism.
The message to the working class hangs defiantly from the walls of the Greek Acropolis today “Peoples of Europe – Rise Up”
– Clarity begins with a truly international perspective and practice
Peter Windeler, ISL
The first time I became aware of Bill was in 1985. In this particular instance, I found myself listening to the party’s General Secretary, Mike Banda.
Mike began to talk of how Trotsky in forming the 4th International in the 1930s had sown “Tigers teeth” but the harvest had been at best “Hen’s teeth”.
I remember listening with some interest to Mike when all of a sudden in the row behind me two people began shouting at him.
These two people turned out to be Bill Hunter and his wife Rae. My initial reaction was one of annoyance. Why couldn’t they just shut up and let Mike speak?
It turned out that Mike was merely, if very eloquently, excusing himself from the movement, which he now considered worthless. However, Bill and Rae refused to accept this.
Bill was to go on and analyse and write about the sudden decline of the WRP, which was because of what he saw as national-Trotskyism. Instead of being part of a true international the WRP had become a mere self-centred national organisation.
– He always had time
Wilson Silva, PSTU – Brazil
A fundamental part of having overcome fear [of translating] was the fact that behind the militant experience, serious, permanently worried, was someone pure ‘sweetness’ and full of generosity.
I remember, for example, he used to do something that few people do in these situations: before his speech, he used to call me aside and explain what he would say, contextualize the stories, write the name of the organisations and leaders he would quote and with a slap on the back encourage and reassure me.
But also, I remember fondly the conversations that we had in intervals. Even in the midst of meetings often complex and difficult, he always had time to tell stories of his life, the causes and jokes of the class struggle.
And, even more impressive, he always was interested in knowing what I thought.
– He denounced Malvinas (Falklands) war
Alicia Sagra, PSTU – Argentina
He is a part of the history of the world labour movement. And he left a lot, in his books, in the memory of his comrades, not only of the ISL, but of the IWL-FI. The comrades of Argentina will never forget that he led the only political current in Britain that had a principal policy during the Malvinas (Falklands) war, which denounced the aggression of English imperialism.
– The loss of a Marxist giant
Phil Sandford, Australia
With the passing of Bill Hunter the international workers’ movement has lost a giant.
Bill gave his life to the workers’ movement and to the fight for Marxism and Trotskyism. On any issue he always fought to bring out the basic historical and theoretical questions, the basics of Marxism and historical materialism.
Bill was uncompromising on questions of principle and at the same time warm, generous, humorous and interested in all aspects of life, as reflected in his book about the anti-slavery poet Edward Rushton.
His books, including his powerful autobiography “A Lifelong Apprenticeship”, and his numerous articles and polemics, are an imperishable contribution to Marxism, and his life is a powerful inspiration to everyone fighting for a just and socialist world.
– An example of our morals and our programme
João Simões, PSTU – Brazil
I have known few people so lively, so full of life, so loving of life and fighting for it. I couldn’t help but think how the subject we were about to study was linked to Bill and his life. Bill’s life was an example of our morals, a concrete expression of our program, and his life was inseparable to our movement’s history.
His life was and is an example. I am profoundly proud to have had the opportunity to meet him, to have been in the same organisation (national and international) as him.