RIP Greta Karpin
I'm very sad to report the death last night (Thursday 13 September) of my friend and comrade Greta Karpin.
Greta was Secretary of Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP and of the Hackney Borough Local Campaign Forum. She had held both posts for many years and some people have said she was Labour's longest-serving CLP Secretary. Aged 80, she died suddenly of a heart attack on her way home from attending a meeting of the CLP's EC, having previously battled through illnesses that would have defeated anyone without her enormous will to live and to live life to the full.
In Hackney Greta was a key figure in rebuilding the local Labour Party after the split in the Hackney Labour Group of councillors in 1995/6. This helped provide the political stability that enabled Labour to regain control of Hackney Council and vastly improve services for local people and the council's reputation.
Greta previously served with distinction on the London Regional Board of the Labour Party.
Growing up in the East End in the 1930s and 1940s, she was a lifelong trade unionist and Labour Party activist, alongside her beloved husband Bert who died almost exactly a year ago. She worked for many years for the ASTMS trade union, now part of Unite. On paper she was PA to General Secretary Clive Jenkins, who was a key soft left player in Labour and TUC politics, but her real role was as Clive's de facto Chief of Staff. She was at the heart of running what was then Britain's fastest-growing union, involved in deal-making and negotiation at Labour Party conferences for many years, and as Jenkins' autobiography reveals, was at the centre of things when Michael Foot and then Neil Kinnock were elected as Labour leaders.
Greta was a stalwart campaigner for peace and social justice and against racism. Although she came from the Party's left she had friends across the whole spectrum of Labour Party politics. She was a mentor and informal adviser to many young activists and councillors in Hackney.
Politically, organisationally, socially, Greta was "the life and soul of the party" in Hackney. It is difficult to imagine the Hackney Labour Party, whether its meetings or its social events, without her, or to believe that I won't be getting an almost daily phone call from her to share or garner gossip and political news, and chase me to complete some local organisational task.
She was fierce in her scorn if you said or did things she thought were wrong (I spent the second half of a dinner party in my own home with her back turned to me refusing to speak because I had said something positive about the EETPU!), or didn't put in Stakhanovite levels of canvassing or leafleting, but forgave quickly and was incredibly generous in her hospitality and friendship.
A stickler for the rulebook, she ran selections and manifesto writing with absolute fairness but great firmness.
I and many other activists in the Labour Party and trade union movement will miss our dear friend and fearless comrade.