Comrades in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) will be saddened to hear of the death of Neale Williams at the age of 57.
Neale was one of the finest working class militants to have joined the ranks of the party and his loss will be keenly felt by all who knew him.
From the age of 16, Neale served in the merchant navy, before joining the London Fire Brigade in 1983.
FBU activity in support of the great miners’ strike of 1984-85 brought him into contact with the SWP, beginning a lifelong commitment to revolutionary socialist politics. Neale was an energetic and tenacious organiser and a fearless activist.
His skill lay in a clear, practical approach to politics—identifying the central fault lines in any situation, and attacking hard along what he felt to be the best axis of advance.
If he could be harsh and single minded at times, it was only out of a deep desire to see our side win. The compassionate side of his personality was always only a knowing smile away.
Neale drew deeply on the political knowledge and experience of those around him.
He often attributed his blunt style to the late Julie Waterson, who, as industrial organiser, schooled Neale during his early years in the party. But, in all things, there was no one whose advice and counsel he valued more than his partner, Jane Elderton.
Neale’s achievements, both great and small, are too numerous to list here.
But I am sure he considered his central role in setting up Firefighters Against the Nazis, a workers’ section of the Anti Nazi League, as some of his most important work.
The same goes for his attempt to develop rank and file organisation in the FBU around the Red Watch group, in the wake of the national strike of 2002-3.
After he retired from the fire brigade, Neale worked for Southwark council, installing telecare.
It was a job he loved and where he continued to remain politically active.
Neale was a larger than life figure, incredibly dedicated, loyal, and with a generosity of spirit and concern for others that were unmatched.
He would think nothing of seriously inconveniencing himself to come to the aid, politically or personally, of those around him. In the mid 90s the Tory government was engaged in another round of attacks on refugees and asylum seekers.
Neale organised a collection of toys from firefighters’ families for the children at a local refugee hostel at Christmas.
This act, not of charity but of solidarity from one group of working class people to another, tells you all you need to know about Neale’s character.
He was passionately committed to the idea that ordinary working people have the power to build a better world.
He leaves behind his partner, Jane, his son and daughter, Jack and Emma and many comrades who will miss him dearly.