Socialist Worker

Helen Shooter 1968–2009

by Dave Sellars and Louise Rathbone
Issue No. 2153

Helen Shooter

Helen Shooter

Comrades will be saddened to hear of the death of Helen Shooter aged 40. She died of cancer which was first diagnosed three years ago.

Helen joined the Socialist Workers’ Party in 1987 at the age of 19 as a student at Portsmouth Poly.

She played a leading role in the student movement and won respect for the clarity of her thought and the staunchness of her principles.

These qualities stood her in good stead over the following years when she worked full time for the SWP as district organiser in three cities and as a journalist on Socialist Worker.

When she graduated Helen was appointed to be the first ever full time party worker in the Bristol district. She turned up, leather jacket over her shoulders, rebel with a cause, and set to work.

This was the time of the first Gulf War and under her leadership the party put itself at the centre of a vigorous broad based anti-war coalition, maintaining good relations with all those opposed to the war without compromising political independence.

She then moved to Birmingham, perceived at the time to be an “old” district of the party. The years she worked there saw it transformed, with the recruitment of a diverse group of young comrades.

When British Naional Party (BNP) member Derek Beackon was elected councillor in London in 1993, the Nazis stepped up activities—and Birmingham was one of their target areas.

Helen’s emphasis on mass campaigning denied the Nazis the oxygen that marches would have provided them—as they were repeatedly chased off the streets.

Helen continued to provide effective leadership in anti-Nazi work, even as she took on the added responsibility of the whole of the West Midlands.

In 1995 she moved to Liverpool. Political life in the city was dominated by the dock strike,

which lasted for over two years, ending with the dockers isolated and forced to accept pay offs.

Helen fought hard to build the solidarity necessary to win, drawing out the political lessons of the failure of the trade union leaders to offer more than lip service to the dockers’ cause.

In 1997 Helen joined Socialist Worker as a journalist. She was excited by the prospect as she loved the paper.

Helen described her seven years working on Socialist Worker as a huge challenge and privilege.

She said that the knowledge that her words would be read by thousands of socialists and trade unionists gave her a feeling of tremendous responsibility.

Her love of English literature helped her writing but it was her deep knowledge of Marxism and clarity of thought that shone through.

She helped shape the paper’s response to the New Labour government as she joined just after Tony Blair was elected in 1997.

She attended a number of anti-capitalist events as the new millennium unfolded, always reporting with precision even while complaining about the primitive accommodation.

Helen was loved by many of those she worked with, particularly young comrades and those new to politics.

She was able to explain issues in a straightforward manner and had a wisdom that belied her own relative youth.

Helen moved back to Birmingham in 2004. She had a deep affection for the comrades, friends and the city. She loved her work as an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher. Most of the young people she worked with were refugees.

She loved hearing about their lives and learning from their experiences and she was thrilled at witnessing confidence grow as they progressed on her courses. She made some new and dear friends at work.

She was determined that she would be able to forge political relationships at work and was keen to be a union steward.

Unfortunately early on in teaching she was diagnosed at a very late stage with a very aggressive form of ovarian cancer.

Helen however was determined that this was not her time and for the next three years she fought cancer with inspirational bravery.

Cancer didn’t define Helen. She defined how she lived with it. To be honest some of her happiest moments have been in the last three years.

She was able to reflect on a life lived in every moment and appreciate all the joy of life, with an obvious intensity.

She always recognised that her experiences as a revolutionary in the SWP had shaped and developed her, however in our opinion what Helen bought to Socialist Worker was exceptional.

She was passionate, caring, intelligent and always mindful of what she said and wrote. She had a wonderful sense of fun and her friends remember laughing with her lots.

She leaves her many friends, her partner and soul mate Gareth who she adored, her sister Tina, her parents, Ivan and Joan, and their partners Jenny and Paul. Our thoughts are with them.

Helen’s funeral will be held at 11.30am on Friday 29 May, Lodge Hill Crematorium, Weoley Park Road, Selly Oak, Birmingham B29 5AA

Article information

Tue 26 May 2009, 18:19 BST
Issue No. 2153
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