A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Friday, September 14, 2012

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.


Anonymous John Braggins said...

I knew Greta and Bert from my time as Labour Party Organiser for Shoreditch in the late 1960s - they were both hard working, committed and lovely people. I also came across Greta as Clive's gatekeeper at ASTMS offices in Camen Road and later as an active rep on the London Labour Board. With Greta goes a huge swath of Labour Party history, I will miss her.

John Braggins

8:43 pm, September 14, 2012

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alan Grifiths said,

I didn't know Greta as well and you did, nor know about her role on the ASTMS staff.

I did know her on the Regional Board and have no hesitiation in endorsing your commnetsd about her intergrity and generosity.

She'll be well remembered

10:01 am, September 16, 2012

Anonymous Charles Foster said...

I'm very sorry to hear about Greta.
I first knew her through Bert, with whom I worked at NCCL in the early 1980s. Bert was the Groups Officer, responsible for getting members to work in local groups to represent NCCL in their area, a task which was about as difficult as the apocryphal herding of cats. Greta was still at ASTMS in those days, although her organisational skills were legendary well beyond her own union and throughout what was then always known as TIGMOO, this great movement of ours.
When I finally joined the Labour Party, after the 1983 general election, I came more into contact with Greta, and got to know both her and Bert quite well for the next 14 years until I moved over to Ireland. I managed to avoid getting onto the GC all that time (too many meetings!) but was both secretary and chair at different periods first in South Defoe and then in Rectory wards.
It must have been about this time that Greta retired from ASTMS and became in effect a full time unpaid Labour Party constituency secretary. There is a quote somewhere from Herbert Morrison about the way in which socialism will be built not by revolution but by the activist armed with a card indexes. That was Greta. Her organising talents were legendary, and perhaps because of this she had friends from all wings of the party.
However, there was another reason she was so well loved. To both her and Bert, and to others of her generation, loyalty to the party and "the movement" was paramount. I am pretty sure that Greta was instinctively old Labour, but like she did in everything else she went along with the majority decision to make the necessary changes to the party in order to win power, and there was no one more delighted than her on the night of 1 May 1997.
We can still learn from people like Greta and Bert, born and bred in the labour movement, and who lived their lives trying to achieve a better life for the wider community. Petty personal differences are unimportant when faced with a Tory-led government determined to attack the important changes introduced by the Labour Party.
I hope that her funeral is a rousing affair, ending with lusty singing of the Red Flag. Raise the scarlet standard high and pay tribute to a great old comrade!
Charles Foster

1:26 pm, September 18, 2012


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