Comrades in Glasgow were saddened to hear of the death of Drew McEwan, who passed away after a courageous battle with asbestos-linked mesothelioma.
He joined the International Socialists (the forerunner of the SWP) in 1969 and was an active member of the party until he became ill last October.
He was exceptionally well read and always made thoughtful and insightful contributions at branch meetings.
Drew was a rank and file trade union activist who was acutely conscious of the importance of solidarity action.
He was on the picket lines during the BSR dispute in East Kilbride in 1969. The dispute was about union recognition for the predominantly female workforce.
They were joined by pickets from Northern Ireland including the civil rights activist Bernadette Devlin.
Drew was part of the SWP factory branch at the giant Chrysler car factory in Linwood where around 150 copies of Socialist Worker were sold every week. As part of the Chrysler delegation, he took part in the mass solidarity protest at Grunwicks in 1977 with such enthusiasm that he was arrested twice.
Central to Drew’s politics was a core belief that the organised working class is the agent of change in society.
He played a crucial role during the bitter Timex dispute in Dundee in 1993, helping to organise mass pickets and coordinate the solidarity protests at the factory.
He won the respect and admiration of the strikers who referred to him as "Drew the socialist".
Drew was arrested and charged with a range of offences. A superb defence campaign was organised by trade unionists and socialists from across the country.
During the trial hundreds of activists held noisy mass pickets outside the court in Dundee. There is no doubt this solidarity was a factor in Drew’s acquittal.
Drew found it difficult to get employment after the Timex dispute and retrained as a teacher of English as a foreign language. He was in Palestine during the second Intifada in 2002 where he taught English at the Arab American University in Jenin.
He regularly sent in reports from Jenin to Socialist Worker highlighting the heroic resistance of the Palestinians to the brutal Israeli occupation. One of the things that defined Drew was his lifelong unconditional and unshakeable support for the Palestinian struggle.
In recent years Drew was involved in the fight to stop the closure of the Remploy factory in Springburn, which employed mainly workers with disabilities. It followed a series of closures of many of Remploy’s 54 British factories which led to many disabled workers losing their jobs. He also supported FE lecturers on their picket lines and was part of a small group who organised a vigorous and successful campaign to keep Castlemilk Job Centre in Glasgow open.
Drew’s death was no accident. He came into contact with asbestos when he worked as a joiner in Fairfields shipyard in Glasgow in the early 1970s. The argument within the unions at the time was that workers should be paid 2 shillings more (ten pence) for working with asbestos.
Drew was part of the smaller group of trade unionists on the left who argued that asbestos should be banned.
It is a cruel irony that the system that Drew fought so hard to change caused his death by forcing workers to work with asbestos in the shipyards and construction industry.
Drew’s commitment to socialist internationalism was an inspiration to us all and he will be sorely missed by his many friends and comrades.