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British University Industrial Relations Association (BUIRA) newsletter

A great many of you will be deeply saddened to learn of the death of Nina Fishman on 5th December 2009, much too young at the age of 63. Nina was Professor of Industrial and Labour History in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Languages, University of Westminster (or Regent Street Poly, as Nina always referred to it!), and latterly Honorary Research Professor in History in the History Department at the University of Swansea. This was not all – Nina was always active in UCU, including as a health and safety representative, and played a prominent role in TUC education, including teaching shop stewards – one of whom, Phil, became her partner - at what was the Harrow College of Higher Education. She was a long-standing member of BUIRA and a regular attendee and advisor to the Central London seminar series. And, despite an impossibly demanding teaching schedule, Nina went out of her way to help younger scholars.

Nina made a major contribution to industrial relations and labour history in Britain, beginning with her PhD thesis which later became The British Communist Party and the Trade Unions, 1933-1945 (1995) – describing the ‘revolutionary pragmatism’ of Harry Pollitt and his colleagues. This was soon followed by Opening the Books: Essays on the Cultural and Social History of the British Communist Party (1995), edited together with Eric Hobsbawm, Geoff Andrews and others. Her life was subsequently devoted to labour history and the study of the role of the trade unions, including as co-editor of Miners, Unions and Politics 1910-1947 (1996 - together with Alan Campbell, David Howell et al) and the two volumes of British Trade Unions and Industrial Politics covering the period 1945 to 1979 (1999 – with John McIlroy and Alan Campbell). Last year she also published In Search of Social Democracy: Responses to Crisis and Modernisation, co-edited with John Callaghan, Ben Jackson and Martin McIvor. But her last major work, completed just before her death and occupying much of the last decade of her life, is Arthur Horner: A Political Biography, about the lifelong communist and general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers from 1946 to 1949, which will be published and launched towards the end of February. .

Nina was an active social historian and socialist, including in her roles as secretary of the Socialist History Society, on the executive board of the Society for the Study of Labour History, on the editorial boards of Labour History Review and Representation and the editorial advisory committee of Socialist History.  She was a trustee of the Aneurin Bevan Foundation and the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust. And she was a firm believer in workers’ control, electoral reform, and a social Europe – inspired, as she openly claimed, by the evolutionary socialist Eduard Bernstein.

Her last major passion, in which I am also involved and which she saw as a matter of genuine urgency, was the post-war oral history project Britain at Work 1945-1995 - to collect the reflections of men and women who helped to reconstruct the British economy and made such significant contributions to the newly emergent society. Nina saw as a key rationale for the project the need to account for the enormous increase in union membership throughout the 1950s and 1960s, penetrating white collar departments in engineering factories and also extending to women. She was the ‘dynamo’, the guiding and prodding spirit in its realisation and formal launch at a packed meeting in the House of Commons in June 2009, with John McDonnell MP as a key speaker. Despite ill health, Nina introduced it:

This project is very dear to my heart. I know how important it is to capture people’s memories of their work experiences and trade union activities. It is a wonderful project, which will help future generations to understand the past.

We and all those who are and will be involved in this project are indebted to Nina for all the inspiration she gave. She was at every meeting, chiding and encouraging, and pushing things forward. Her enthusiasm has infected us all with a great determination to continue and it is thanks to her that it is now up and running with great potential for expansion, including through projects on trade unionists in west London and on construction workers and through the involvement of the Bishopsgate Institute, the Raphael Samuel Trust, the TUC Library Collection, HistoryTalk and many more.

 Any encounter with Nina was life-enhancing, thought-provoking, unpredictable, and, not least, fun – including the regular monthly ‘supper club’ which she organised and which I attended. She was an unfailing friend to fairness and social justice, a formidable enemy of inequality and exploitation of every kind. Her clarity of thought, wisdom, fearlessness and, above all, kindness made her a cherished colleague, teacher, friend. Many of us in the University of Westminster owe a great deal to Nina in our working lives thanks to her unflagging support and comradeship, and some of us had the great good fortune also to be counted amongst her friends. She is greatly missed by all those whose lives she touched.

With typical thoughtfulness, symbolising her great love of music and to share with friends, Nina organised just before she died a performance of Verdi’s Requiem at the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea on 17th January 2010 at 7-9pm with the Welsh Symphony Orchestra and the Swansea Philharmonic Choir. Entrance is free; you just need to register your attendance. There will also be a Memorial Service in London on Sunday January 31st at 12 o’clock at TUC Congress House, where people can share their memories of Nina. Any donations in Nina’s memory should go to The Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust.

Professor Linda Clarke

University of Westminster

January 6th 2010 

 

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