A Tribute to Steve Ryan

Craig Lewis writes: Steve Ryan, who has died after a short battle with cancer, was an active and much respected Executive Committee member of Left Unity, and a mainstay of LU in Wales. It is hard for comrades who knew him to come to terms with his sudden passing. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family, especially to Myra and his children, and to his many friends and comrades.

The array of tributes to Steve from across the trade union movement and radical left testify to his impact on the lives he touched through his lifelong trade union commitment and tireless socialist, anti-fascist and environmental campaigning. Here are a few of the two hundred or more posted on his Facebook page:

  • First met Steve at a Wrexham anti-Apartheid meeting 35 years ago. He was late but we hit it off straight away. Always politically curious, a thinker, a rabble rouser, a campaigning trade unionist and libertarian socialist. A real one-off…. He loved his music, his cider, and his family. Cwsg mewn hedd gyfaill”
  • When I left PCS, he sent me a card with a picture of Emiliano Zapata with a quote: “La tierra es de quien la trabaja con sus manos” (the land belongs to those who work it with their hands). For anyone who had the privilege to spend time in Steve’s company you will understand this. I will miss my old comrade who taught me so much about politics and life”.
  • Very sad news for the Movement. I knew Steve for 30+ years. What I liked about him was the fact he was always calling for unity on the Left.”
  • He was a tremendous help to me when I first became a rep and one of the reasons why I continued. I have fond memories of him from sharing allotment tips, staying in his home and finding a sheep skin in the bath! His kindness, strength and generosity will be greatly missed”.
  • Steve was a major influence in PCS Wales and was a friend and mentor to a lot of younger reps. Steve’s passion for equality and justice was insatiable and a force to be reckoned with”.
  • Very sad news. I first met Steve when he helped support firefighters in our pay campaign. Since then, our paths crossed many times at trade union council meetings and various campaigns. He was a very caring man.”
  • The last time I saw him was at the two demos he called in May in support of Palestine. He was also trying to kick start the North Wales People’s Assembly before Covid got in the way. Steve was passionate about getting back out on the streets”.
  • I last saw my very dear friend in Liverpool just before the first Covid lockdown. As usual we drank a few, laughed and joked as we always did. Today I feel heartbroken, but I know I have happy memories of our long friendship, including our time on the North Wales Branch Committee, Wales and Group Executive. Rest in peace comrade I will miss you.”
  • Thank you, Steve for your commitment to the Lucas Plan ideals and bringing the message to your meetings in Wales and Left Unity. Rest in workers’ power.”
  • Abiding memories are strike days. Picking him up outside his house at 6am on dark and wet mornings so we could set up placards and flags – only, Steve would be on his mobile “co-ordinating” while I’d be doing the work! Then breakfast in town to warm up – always with cider! One time we were down meeting management. Steve was going to one of his festivals after the meeting. He walked into a swanky meeting room carrying the biggest rucksack I’d ever seen and just dumped it in the corner – no one batted an eyelid! We didn’t always see eye to eye, but I always admired his commitment to the union and trade unionism in general. Often, he seemed a lone voice crying in the wilderness, but he never gave up trying. There’s a quote from Terry Pratchett I think “Do you not know that a man isn’t dead while his name is still spoken”. Steve’s name will be spoken for many years to come. “

To my regret I never got as personally close to Steve as I would have liked, but these voices speak far more eloquently than I could. They testify to what one long-time Left Unity comrade calls the: “many strings to his colourful humane bow”. Of course, working for 30 years as a union and political activist in North Wales our paths inevitably crossed many times. My abiding memory will always be of a politically curious and committed socialist who shunned the sectarianism of the far left, and always sought to build unity and solidarity in action. 30 years ago, he turned up at our first SWP stall in Wrexham; helped hand out leaflets; seemed to know every passer-by and got them to sign our petition; all the while explaining why he thought we were wasting our time! He rightly believed that radical social change didn’t happen through “party building “alone. It could only come about through the democratic and collective self-activity of working-class people. (Funny thing is, that two of the four on that stall are now in Left Unity – pure coincidence Steve!).

As the tributes testify, he was a committed union organiser and union activist. A doughty fighter for equality and opponent of all forms of oppression. Steve helped bring together union and community opposition to the fascists in North Wales when, first the BNP and later the EDL, tried to establish a presence in several working-class communities. He played a central role too in establishing “North Wales Against the Cuts” in response to Cameron’s austerity offensive and in building the Peoples’ Assembly in North Wales. His energy and commitment during the public sector pensions campaign in 2011 (and his undoubted ability to delegate the donkey work!) ensured mass PCS support for the strike and was vital in us delivering the largest demonstration Wrexham had seen since the Miners’ Strike. Retirement didn’t blunt his commitment to socialism and workers self-determination. He started a degree in History and Politics, joined Left Unity and, as Len Arthur says, in our Wales tribute: “He made a huge contribution to our debates, our manifesto and in other ways.” For Steve the struggle never seemed to stop. Earlier this year he organised two Justice for Palestine demonstrations and, even as his illness took its unrelenting toll, he started to campaign for the restoration of face-to-face GP appointments. He knew it was too late for him but selflessly wanted to prevent others suffering the consequences of a late cancer diagnosis.

So much more could and will be written about this most human and humane of socialists. His concern for the land, sense of place, absurd humour, his tai chi practice, and of course his love of music, festivals, and cider! But I think I will just leave the last words to another comrade from North Wales. Pam speaks to the loss we all feel so deeply:

For Steve:

Starlings flypast

Bomber Formation

Pewter cumulus

Sparrowhawk predation

Now September bringing jewels and ashes

Struggles continue though

The valiant passes. (Pam Stevens)


2 responses to “A Tribute to Steve Ryan”

  1. Peter Jones says:

    Since I returned to North Wales in 2005, I met Steve on a number of occasions and those occasions were always political – People’s Assembly, Left Unity, various demonstrations and, of course, picket lines.
    Others have spoken of his humanity and his commitment to the working class and I echo all those sentiments.
    As a comrade he will be sorely missed, but our work continues.

  2. Jimmy Gill says:

    I just feel really angry about Steve’s death. I will certainly do what I can to support his campaign

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