An obituary for British builder, anarchist and asbestos campaigner Pete Turner.
Pete Turner was a South Londoner, who served an apprenticeship as a carpenter, toiled in the building industry for the whole of his working life and died from asbestosis during his retirement. He was a truly sweet man and it was typical, and fitting, that he should have attended Arthur's cremation even though he was wheelchair-bound and breathing via an oxygen cylinder. When I visited him (for the last time as it's turned out) at his home in Hammersmith at the end of June he could no longer walk and I feared, and he knew, that he was on the way out. It could be six months I thought.
Pete's unflagging political drive centred on trade union activism and, again like Arthur, he was far more tolerant of the leftism of his fellow activists than his more arty middle-class anarchist comrades would have been. His sweetness, as exemplified by his ready smile and genuine interest in other people, made him irresistible to men and women and he was able to avoid, by and large, the notorious feuds and fall-outs, which bedevil parts of the anarchist movement. His own anarchism, however, was rock steady. His tolerance didn't extend to him shifting his own ground and he rigorously applied his beliefs to his own life.
He lived humbly but expansively, loved jazz and film, was widely read and somehow travelled widely. He was married once, no children of his own but loving father to step-children, and had many close women friends for whom he was a marvellously gifted self-appointed grandfather to their children. When he stayed with us a couple of years ago our two boys took to him at once. However, when we all went out cycling together, Pete, to his own shame and chagrin, had to give up after a couple of hundred yards because he couldn't breathe. He'd always been a cyclist and missed it terribly. He'd showed me an album full of his cycling photographs and there was 15 year old Pete, neat and petite, competing on his hand-built racing cycle with his ready smile already working its magic.
I first encountered him in the 60s when he was Freedom's 'industrial editor'. In those days Freedom had a masthead on its back page as well as its front, so that it could be sold at factory gates with the back page displayed. This page featured disputes, strikes, lock-outs, work-ins and continually made the case for worker's control. It was Pete who put the back page together and his integrity and absolute reliability shone from it. I forget how we first met but our shared interest in, among other things, cycling, jazz, and the writings of William Morris, made friendship easy. Mostly we met on demos, and always on May Days. He was active on the Hammersmith Trades Council and in the Pensioners Movement until the last and there was an inextinguishable spark of optimism in his nature which, whether you shared it or not, was part of his sweet appeal.
His women friends helped and supported him to the end and his dear friend Pam, who lived nearby, was a tower of strength. Their friendship was typical of all his friendships: they crossed political, social and cultural divides, were a source of endless delight and were unshakeable.
Actually, that will do as a memorial for Pete: he was unshakeable. I'm shaken, though. He was a dear friend, a genuinely good bloke, and a credit to his anarchist beliefs. He'll be keenly missed by me and many.