Socialist Worker

Colwyn Williamson 1938-2019

by Rhoda Thomas, with input from Howard Moss, Mike Cohen and Fred Fitton.
Issue No. 2653

Colwyn Williamson, who died last week, came to work in South Wales in the late 1960s, already a member of the growing International Socialists Group.

A philosophy lecturer at Swansea university, he threw himself into the political ferment of those years, speaking on platforms with Paul Foot in the early 1970s and working alongside Tony Cliff. 

He became a respected leader of the Swansea Trades Council and active in the 1972 and 1974 miners’ strikes, helping to organise picketing across the coalfield. He was a key organiser of the successful demonstration against Margaret Thatcher when she visited Swansea. 

Colwyn Williamson

Colwyn Williamson


Although he later left the party, he continued to be politically active in campaigns such as Stop the War, where he chaired one of Swansea’s biggest meetings, and at times, taking a leading role in Swansea AUT union.

As a whistleblower—one of the “Swansea Three”—questioning the quality of postgraduate courses in the philosophy of healthcare at the university, he and his colleague Mike Cohen were locked out of their offices and threatened with dismissal. They were later reinstated in what was hailed as a great victory for academic freedom. 

This was an early attack against the introduction of a business model into higher education and the commodification of academic study. Following the scandal, Williamson and Cohen set up CAFAS (Campaign for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards).

A decade later, they were again at the forefront of another fight. This time it was against the closure of five departments, including their own.

Always known for his sharp wit and fierce energy in the struggle, he was unwell in recent times. He leaves four adult children and will be missed by many friends and comrades.

He was a central figure for the Swansea left for decades, both in trade union activism and in campaigning, providing a legacy that underpins the work of local activists today.   

Rhoda Thomas, with input from Howard Moss, Mike Cohen and Fred Fitton.

Article information

Tue 7 May 2019, 16:25 BST
Issue No. 2653
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