Rob Windsor – a fighter for socialism
The 14th January 2020 marks 8 years since we lost Rob Windsor to a serious illness. Rob, who passed away on 14th January, 2012, was a tireless fighter and campaigner for socialism and a former councillor in St Michaels ward for the Socialist Party. He played a major role in the anti-poll tax movement – a campaign which brought the downfall of Margaret Thatcher. He was also a great friend and inspiration to many people and his legacy lives on in those who were inspired by Rob to fight against the capitalist system and for a socialist future.
Against the backdrop of Boris Johnson’s Tory election victory and the ever increasing battles erupting between the working class and ruling class across the world the legacy and lessons from the struggles Rob took part in and helped lead are ever more important.
Rob was a regular on any picket line and unlike any of the current crop of Labour or Tory councillors never voted for a single cut – quite a contrast to those Labour councillors today who shrug their shoulders and say ‘nothing can be done’ about austerity savage attacks on ordinary people.
Rob was fearsome fighter for the working class. He stopped at nothing to defend the interests of working people in anyway he could but always linked every struggle to the central role of the working class and the need for a revolutionary party armed with a clear programme to rid the world of capitalism and build a socialist future for humanity.
If you feel inspired by Rob please get in contact if you are interested in finding out more, attending branch meetings or joining the Socialist Party.
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We are reproducing 3 articles below;
The first is the original obituary for Rob, written by Dave Griffiths in 2012
The second is an article written by Rob in March, 2004. At the time Rob was a sitting councillor with Dave Nellist and Karen McKay. In his work as a Socialist public representative he worked tirelessly for his constituents and working class people across the city and helped people get organised.
And the third an article by Lenny Shail recalling the experience of a young lad who got to work and struggle alongside Rob
Remembering Rob Windsor: socialist fighter and Coventry Socialist Party Councillor 1964-2012
A Man Who Helped Melt The Iron Lady
By Dave Griffiths
25 years ago a young lad walked into one of Dave Nellist’s campaign rooms. He wanted to get involved.
At that time Rob Windsor was built like a ‘human stick insect’ and worked helping the homeless. His cheerful, humorous and humble manner didn’t hide the steely determination within to fight the injustices of capitalist society.
He had concluded that society must be fundamentally changed to improve working people’s conditions. He had seen what Militant supporters had done in Coventry and nationwide and having checked we were serious, decidedhe would join us. Clearly a working class lad himself you could tell he was bright and meant business.
His job with Coventry Churches Housing was put in jeopardy when he supported our campaign to Save Whitley Hospital, the campaign that convinced him to join us.
It was no accident (having been fostered as a child) that he worked to help the homeless and most downtrodden and he passionately fought the abandonment by capitalist society of hundreds of thousands of people.
At 18 he went to London and ran a 900 bed homeless hostel and did soup runs while living in a Notting Hill squat. He was an expert on housing and ran an inspired campaign against Council House privatisation, denouncing it in a well used pamphlet, with the aid of Nicholas Parsons’ photo, as the “Sale of the Century”.
Rob became a leader of the anti poll tax campaign and later a Socialist councillor in St Michaels, Coventry. He would help others often to his own detriment, so much so that many of the ‘rough rogues and vagabonds’ from Coventry’s working class estates who joined the Anti Poll Tax campaign ran around ‘mothering’ him. But after being encouraged to eat, Rob developed a much fuller figure in later life! His body shape changed, but his passion to change society surged on. But now that is lost to us and working people have lost one of their true champions.
No-one who heard him could forget his wonderful and vivid way of explaining events and ideas. Almost like radio can, he could make the mind conjure up pictures. He was one of the best ‘ranters’ we’ve known, whose use of humour always made ideas accessible to people. Many comrades say they never tired of hearing him speak.
The Anti Poll Tax campaign revealed his huge talents. He gave up his job to focus on it. One day he went away with the hundreds of pages of Poll Tax legislation. 2 days later he returned with a summary of what it was and how to fight it in a mere ten page campaigning pamphlet, and not a word of it was ever found wanting.
Rob inspired many an anti Poll Tax meeting and the mass non-payment campaign. Others of us who rushed around to address one packed meeting after another would worry what could happen to people who refused to pay the tax. We would consult Rob who always had the legal answer, and always right!
He was a tiger defending the non-paying army. He baffled magistrates around the country and drove them to distraction. There was little as entertaining as Rob entangling them! And he taught others how to do it. Court after court was clogged up. He bamboozled, beat and chased off bailiffs as he cut a swathe across the Midlands. A famous headline “Mr Windsor beats Mrs Windsor” reported how Rob beat off thousands of wage attachments in the Courts.
Thatcher said the Poll Tax was “her flagship”, Rob always said it would be her Titanic and he was a significant part in beating Thatcher (who he always called the ‘tin woman’).
But he didn’t stop there. He fought on to change the system itself. To his last he still led that fight and it is as good a measure of the man as his brilliant leadership of the anti Poll tax unions, that he advanced Marxist ideas in a period of political retreat including in difficult environments like the Council chamber.
In the early 90’s capitalism appeared to have triumphed. Within months of beating the Poll Tax, Rob faced expulsion from the Labour Party. His opposition to the Poll Tax proving he was a ‘Militant’! The Labour Party was moving to the right and abandoning any talk of Socialism. It was embracing the market that has brought us to the dire economic position we face today.
But while many were abandoning socialism and Marxism, Rob fought on to help establish the support and organisation we have today that will advance the struggle for change.
It is the greatest compliment to say that when he became a councillor he was utterly politically reliable and down the line. He explained and advanced our ideas unflinchingly, be it in the Council House or anywhere else. His honesty and grasp of issues always shone through. And anyone under attack could rely on Rob on their side. From school-students on strike or pickets at Wapping (where he got an object personal lesson in the brutality of the state) or travelling to support Vestas workers on the Isle of Wight or to speak in support of Tommy Sheridan in Glasgow.
He was ‘a politician’, not because he wanted to be one, but because he knew we had to fight back. He could analyse issues in seconds, he was brilliant, but with no pretentions.
Rob lived for his politics but also loved walking hills (returning to supply many of us with oatcakes) and he’d planned to combine walking with visiting branches of the Socialist Party to speak. It is so hard to grasp that this won’t happen, that at only 47 he is lost to so many people who appreciated him.
But we’ll have to work to make up for it, and as Rob did many times, rededicate ourselves to the fight he carried so well and try to find people with the strengths and talents to advance ideas in the way he did.
The liver transplant in December had promised to renew Rob’s life, and as he was now ‘more comfortable in his skin’ the best of him was still to come. But complications arose and after 5 weeks struggle they could not be resisted. His surgeon said how hard he fought for life. That’s because he valued it and wanted everyone to have the chance to do so.
Isla loses a husband and we lose a brother. He was collaborative person, a human being who by his work inspired us and was inspired by those he fought alongside.
He is a huge loss to the Socialist Party. But we stand taller because of our association with him.
We’ll work to compensate for this loss as Rob would want, and as we make advances in the future we wish he was with us to share in it. He deserves to be there.
Coventry Socialist Party will continue the work that Rob Windsor committed his entire adult life to – the struggle for a socialist future.
The following article written by Rob Windsor was carried in The Socialist, the weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party, in March 2004.
In the article Rob explains how he became a socialist, and why he joined the Militant, the forerunner of the Socialist Party.
If you agree with Rob, we urge you to fill in the form at the end of the article and join us in the fight for socialism.
Campaigning To Change Society
By Rob Windsor
I was always “Socialist minded” from my late teens. I took part in CND marches. I had worked with the homeless in London aged 19 so had seen the results of capitalism at the sharp end. I used to get mad every time I saw Maggie Thatcher on the telly but then kick myself for doing nothing!
The biggest push towards joining a party was when I saw the contrast between policing at a CND mass trespass at the Trident base in Scotland, then under construction, and that used at the Wapping dispute over the sacking of 5,000 printers.
The former was low key, the latter the most brutal I had ever seen. I remember a horse charge and saw this mounted police officer peel an old guy off some railings with a long riot shield. Then a “snatch squad” of about six with short truncheons beat him to within an inch of his life.
It was then that I realised that a class war was going on and the lengths that the privileged would go to defend their interests. I became a Militant supporter (the forerunner of the Socialist Party) in 1987 after the successful campaign to get Dave Nellist, then a Labour MP, re-elected to Parliament.
Of all the groups on the Left, Militant was the most serious and disciplined. When something was fully discussed and decided, it got done. Within two years, I was playing a leading role in building the anti-poll tax campaign that beat Thatcher and her tax.
I am now one of three Socialist Party councillors in Coventry. Whilst there are only three of us we strive to show an alternative way of organising society in everything we do.
We have played a full part in the mass anti-war movement and set up a special council meeting to discuss the war, one of the few councils in Western Europe to do so.
A lot of our work involves fighting for people who the anti-war movement hasn’t touched – but the cost of the war certainly has! Every day we battle for funding for areas where local people are told that they can’t have even a few thousand quid for improvements – yet the £6.5 billion cost of war is made to seem like small change!
Fighting for people
We have fought housing privatisation and the break up of working class communities so that developers can profit from land deals. We got the council to oppose top-up fees. We saved council jobs, and through our determination to oppose at all costs, forced the council to put an extra £1 million into adult social services.
We work on individual issues and community campaigns every day of the week. Even one of Blair’s favourite think-tanks recognised us as good local representatives.
But we are not like this because we are nice individuals or specially gifted.
It is because we are members of a party with firm ideas about transforming society so that working people own and control the wealth created; a party that doesn’t allow its representatives to have lavish lifestyles way above those that we represent. We’re there to improve the lives of working people – not our bank balances.
The Socialist Party doesn’t stop at just complaining about capitalist society but strives every day to change it. In trades unions, in local areas, in mass campaigns like the anti-war movement, amongst the workers and youth. It is well worth joining.
This following was written on the 5th anniversary of Robs passing by Lenny Shail.
FIVE YEARS SINCE THE PASSING OF ROB WINDSOR
Five years since the passing of Rob Windsor – January 2017
Today marks five years since the untimely passing of Socialist Party member and Coventry councillor Rob Windsor (1964-2012).
The following tribute was written by Lenny Shail.
Rob was a well known stalwart of Militant and the Socialist Party who played a leading role in innumerable campaigns over the years, not least the monumental anti-Poll Tax campaign which helped to organise millions of people to defeat the tax and Thatcher.
He was also an elected Socialist Party Councillor in St Michael’s ward in Coventry, a position he used with fellow Socialist Councillors Dave Nellist and Karen McKay to advance the interests of ordinary people in Coventry and further afield.
I was 18 when I first met Rob at a Socialist Party meeting in Hillfields, not really sure what exactly I had joined or what I was meant to do. Rob came darting over to me at the end to talk to me, he had just come back from the Isle of Wight where he had been supporting striking Vestas workers. I was amazed by his stories of what he had got up to and how he had been sleeping on a roundabout down there!
Rob always took the time to talk and discuss with anyone who showed an interest in fighting for the working class or who was new to the Socialist Party. I was lucky to spend many hours – if not days! – pounding the streets of St Michaels and other working class areas of Coventry with Rob, and throughout 2009 and 2010 we built towards the 2010 general election and fought for Rob’s seat in the local election.
Rob led by example to the many new young members getting active at that time. While Rob was a tireless fighter for any improvement in the lives of working class people, however basic, he would always strive to raise and link any fight to need for a socialist change of society. I remember knocking doors and building for local public meetings on parking schemes, hospital parking charges and local service closures while in between doors Rob would be rabbiting on to me and other young comrades about Trotsky’s role in the struggle to defend the Russian Revolution after 1917 .
Rob had a tremendous talent to explain and convince anyone of of even the most complex of socialist ideas. Be it a strike, local community meeting, a complex international situation – Rob always seemed to know what had to be said and what needed to be done. At the many rallies, meetings, hustings he demonstrated to us young socialists coming through how to raise and make the ideas of socialist revolution as simple as clicking your fingers. I remember at one hustings he was asked if he was religious or believed in God. Rob’s answer was that he “believed in working class people, coming together in their millions to fight for a world run in their interests and needs”. Rob always hammered this confidence and potential in the working class to us “younguns” at the time and always pushed and encouraged us to speak ourselves rather than just leave it to him at any event.
As a fresh, energetic young activist working with Rob and others week in week out was always fun with some amazing laughs and experiences, but when needed to he would also be extremely detailed and serious. In his last few years despite his health affecting his ability to contribute to the day to day struggles, Rob still did whatever he could to help and especially to to assist me and other young comrades who were starting to play more leading roles and organising stuff ourselves.
In Autumn 2010 a huge student movement swept across Britain in response to the tripling of student fees and cut of EMA. In early October at Warwick Uni, on the day the Browne Review which announced the proposal was released, we took a punt and organised the first protest anywhere in country – no one knew at that stage how big the movement would become! I was nervous as hell, having never organised anything like it before. Rob rocked up out of the blue, having got out of work to come down and help us out. He gave us a blistering speech on the megaphone as he always did but it was the time he took to speak and advise us on what we should put forward, slogans and demands that made such an impression. Over the course of the next couple months, every week there was some sort of protest or demo we organised, at Warwick, Cov Uni and City College. Rob was at all of them, to help us out and back us up, but looking back it was clear he was also excited himself to see a whole new generation of fighters coming through and into activity. He was quite happy to stand back and just watch us get on with the job with his advice – but it was his contribution at the magnificent school student walkout we organised in Coventry on Day X, the day the vote went through parliament, that I pretty much base every talk or speech I do on!
We led a march of around 200 students through the City Centre and to Speakers Corner outside the Council House. The energy and excitement was nothing like we had experienced and we were sort of making it up as we went along, not knowing if anyone would even show up beforehand! After a few speeches from some of the students and the Socialist Students organisers, we passed the megaphone to Rob who I think gave us all goosebumps with his praise for what all those who had walked out had done and how we had “exploded onto the scene of history” and taken the first steps in the struggle to transform the world along socialist lines.
Rob was a reluctant leader, but his ability and talent to understand complex law and theories, to inspire and explain pushed him to the front of any meeting or protest. He was a great mate and mentor, but he could do your head in sometimes with his timing skills and ability to somehow crumple any paperwork you gave him!
He was a tremendous class fighter, Marxist and revolutionary who put fighting against the exploitation of others ahead of himself, someone who did all he could to inspire, develop and train a new generation of working class fighters and Marxists; ready, as Rob often put it, for the “mighty and bigger battles to come”.