In perhaps his last email to friends and comrades after the diagnosis Ken finished by saying, 'Please pass on the word to those that need to know and say that I am relying on you to keep up the fight for better and more sustainable world. My only regret is that I'm bailing out so early. In comradeship, Ken' (Martin Francis)
Ken became an FE lecturer, first in what was then Kilburn Polytechnic (where I taught), then at Barnet. Before he retired, he did some part-time teaching at Middlesex. His main area was literature but he was deeply involved in Media Studies. His students loved him, especially those he took on annual pilgrimages to Cannes so that they could witness the iniquities but also the ‘alternative reality’ of the film industry for themselves. He was the Branch Secretary for what I suspect he felt was far too long, fighting the college management’s petty vindictiveness as well as the grander issues of conditions and pay. One of the crucial (and ultimately successful) campaigns he was crucially involved in was for the reinstatement of John Fernandes, a black lecturer at the College of North West London who was being dismissed for revealing the racist content of essays by police cadets whom he taught.
The first massive class struggle I remember him in was at Grunwicks. He was the Secretary of Barnet Trades Council at the time and was on the Grunwick strike committee. From the beginning he stressed the importance, especially given the concealed racism, of solidarity between white, male, manual workers and Asian women and was vociferous in demanding, mass pickets to shut down Grunwick. As Ken wrote in SW: ’There was lots of talk of support from the top of the unions but it was mostly just talk.’ Indeed, as I remember vividly the turning point in the dispute came when, after a few weeks of mass pickets, the TUC (in the figure of Jack Dromey, then of Brent Trades Council, and indeed, Scargill,) marched us away from the gates. Ken would not have been in agreement with that.
Ken continued to be active, campaigning for example for the Respect candidate in Brent in a number of elections. But his next major and long-term involvement was over climate change, which, in recent years, including campaigning against fracking. He emphasised throughout the importance of trade union support and organisation. He was instrumental in setting up the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group (CACCTU) and became its Secretary. He took a leading part in organising and promulgating the influential ‘One Million Climate Jobs’ booklet and campaign, both in Britain and internationally (supported by Jeremy Corbyn though one wouldn’t know it).
Last year he attended the Paris Climate talks as part of the Global Climate Jobs movement. Global Climate Jobs is the network of all the national climate campaigns, which he was instrumental in setting up. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) held an alternative summit in Paris, attended by approx 40 climate jobs activists from 20 countries, which launched a Global Climate Jobs campaign. Ken always emphasised the crucial role of trade unions.
As he wrote afterwards about Paris:
The last event he was organising was the Conference Climate Refugees, The Climate Crisis & Population Displacement. Building A Trade Union & Civil Society Response (to be held on Saturday 11 February 10pm - 5pm, NUT, Hamilton House) Let’s support it.
For much of his life Ken lived in Cricklewood and was active in many local campaigns against, council and goverment cuts, against racism and against war. He was the founder and backbone of the Brent Campaign Against Climate Change and a key organiser in Campaign Against Climate Change nationally and its Trade Union group. It was an honour to have worked with him on these campaigns and as a fellow UCU member.