Socialist Worker

Willie Lee 1939-2010

by Dave Sherry
Issue No. 2201

Willie Lee, a lifelong socialist who made a big contribution to the Socialist Workers Party, died suddenly while on a walking holiday in northern Spain last week.

His death came as a shock, for Willie was energetic and active right until the end of his life.

Only a few months ago at the Unite Against Fascism protest against the Scottish Defence League in Glasgow, Willie took the lead in forcing Nazis out of a pub.

Born in Glasgow at the start of the Second World War, Willie left school at 15. He joined the merchant navy as a raw youngster out to see the world. What he saw forged his rebel nature and his sense of injustice.

In the 1960s he went to work at the Linwood car factory near Glasgow and became a union militant.

He was part of that important generation of workers who, inspired by the revolts of 1968, rejected Stalinism and Labour reformism and fought for workers’ power.

Willie joined the International Socialists, the forerunners of the SWP.

He was a fine agitator who led by example, and was always accountable to the workers who elected him as their shop steward.

He recruited many workers and students to the SWP and helped build a factory branch, which could sell 200 copies of Socialist Worker every week.

Throughout the 1970s he was prominent in the trade union, anti-Nazi and socialist movements at the same time as raising three young daughters.

The 1974 Labour government halted the workers’ momentum that destroyed the Tories.

Linwood faced closure in 1980 and Willie argued for a factory occupation at a mass meeting of 8,000 workers.

When it closed without a fight he had to start all over again. Blacklisted at 40, he moved to London along with his partner Mairi where he became a manual worker with Hackney council.

Throughout the 1980s he fought to hold union organisation together and became the full time convenor.

He retired and moved back to Glasgow in the mid 1990s with Mairi and their son Calum. Although less active he remained a socialist and continued to support many SWP initiatives.

Willie was a self-educated worker with a deep love of music, books and film. An adventurous, gregarious man with a great zest for life, he loved to travel.

He was irreverent, frank and funny and inspired those of us who knew and worked with him. His family and friends will miss him badly.

Socialist Worker sends condolences to Mairi, his partner for the last 30 years, their son Calum and Willie’s three daughters Sharon, Denise and Annette.

Article information

Tue 11 May 2010, 17:13 BST
Issue No. 2201
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