He Kept on the Road
AMONG the crop of deaths at this time of the year, we have to report that of Peter Gibson, in Croydon, who passed away in his sleep in the early hours of December 16, only a couple of weeks after Norman Harding in Leeds. They knew each other well, having been for many years comrades-in-arms in the Socialist Labour League and its successor organisation the Workers Revolutionary Party, and were both among the principled working class core of the comrades who ousted long-time leader Gerry Healy in 1985.
Peter was a life-long trades unionist and political activist, who started in the Labour League of Youth in the late 1940's/early 1950's, and in the shopworkers' union USDAW, which if I am not mistaken was Ted Knight's union also in the same area. Peter was a Labour Councillor in Streatham in the 1950's but expelled from the Labour Party in Croydon more than 50 years ago for being critical of Labour Councillors who failed to attend a meeting to vote for "Christmas extras" for residents in Croydon's old people's homes. (info from fellow trade unionist and ex-Croydon mayor Peter Spalding).
It was as an active member of USDAW that Peter Gibson became Secretary of Croydon Trades Council in the late 1950's and throughout most of the 1960's. (ibid). It may have been in 1962 when I came up to London to support Lambeth Trades Council members campaigning against racism and fascism that I met Peter for the first time, among some Croydon brothers taking part.
Having gone to work on the 'buses, Peter was based at Thornton Heath Bus Garage and very soon became a TGWU shop steward. He went on to become an elected TGWU representative at local, regional and national level - serving for some years on the TGWU National Executive. He undertook many other responsibilities within the Trades Union movement but always refused offers of becoming a full-time official because he preferred to be a lay member.
When Croydon TUC was reconstituted in 1978 Peter Gibson became its Treasurer and remained so for 15 years. Not long after I'd rejoined the sans Healy WRP in 1986 Croydon trades council held a Palestine evening, with Yusuf Alani from the PLO office, acting as labour attache, and Peter and Dot Gibson made a point of bringing me to join the get together at Ruskin House.
Peter became Secretary of Croydon TUC (for a second time) in 1994 and remained Secretary until he retired. During the 1980's he helped to organise speakers for meetings in Croydon including national Trades Union and political leaders and also host delegations from across Europe. He participated in delegations to Paris and Berlin and in the late 1980's helped to form links between bus workers in London and transport workers in Paris (Isle de France Region of the CGT).
In the closing years of the WRP me and Peter did not always agree, and as hitherto comrades seemed to turn into different groups of friends, we drifted somewhat apart. Some of our differences would have been difficult to explain to an outsider, and I'm not sure I could remember them accurately now. But one thing I do remember is that for the brief time I was asked to produce an International Trade Union Solidarity Campaign newsletter, Peter Gibson always took a genuine, positive interest in the content, and always made sure he had a batch for his union contacts, of which there were quite a lot.
Whatever criticisms other comrades might have had of his leadership on the buses and in the TGWU in this difficult period of anti-union laws, privatised companies, and a divided and weakened workforce with fewer rights, Peter soldiered on, and cannot have been a careerist judging from his refusal to accept a full-time union post.
After he retired, Peter served for eight years as a much respected Governor of Croydon College (14, 000 full-time and part-time students and nearly a 1000 staff). He also founded and chaired the Croydon Retired Peoples' Association and went on to to act as Secretary and then Chair of the Croydon Branch of the TGWU/UNITE retired members group. He continued to campaign on issues from pensions to post office closures particularly affecting older people.
Having only this year joined a Unite Retired members branch myself, and with nothing like Peter's years of distinguished service in the TGWU/Unite, I can only regret I will not have the chance to talk to him again and learn from his experience of who's who and what's what.
Among friends and comrades who did know Peter well, one is Keith Scotcher, who grew up in Croydon:
'I am writing here to express my regret at the passing of Peter Gibson, a tireless veteran internationalist and socialist, trade unionist and campaigner for workers rights. Peter was a former delegate to the trades council and bus workers representative. I first met Peter in 1965 when I joined the Young Socialists and learned much from his good and wise advice, which served me well when I later became shop steward at Fords car plant in Dagenham. I am sure there very many trade unionists and people in general who knew and respected Peter and will remember him well'
Peter Spalding, vice president of Croydon Trades Union Council, writes:
" He was a life-long dedicated TU activist. He was a man of great integrity and highly regarded by everyone who knew and worked with him - even those who sometimes disagreed with him.
He was a much loved father, grandfather and great grandfather and was, of course, the husband of Dot Gibson the General Secretary of the National Pensioners' Convention ".