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Phil Turner

Nick Howard obituary

(October 2016)


From The Guardian, 10 October 2016.
Copied from the Guardian Website.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


Nick Howard joined the merchant navy at 16 and his 10 years travelling around the world politicised him

Nick Howard

My friend Nick Howard, who has died aged 83, witnessed revolution around the world in the 1950s when he served in the merchant navy for 10 years.

Born in Marylebone, London, the son of Thomas, a clerk of works, and Tusha (nße Bravo), who worked at one of the first Marie Stopes clinics, Nick was a war evacuee, leaving Munster Road primary school in Fulham to attend a village elementary school near Guildford, Surrey. He then went to Royal Guildford grammar school on a scholarship, before joining the merchant navy aged 16.

In 1956, he was working as a ship’s officer and navigator sailing in the Suez Canal on the day the Egyptian leader, Nasser, nationalised it. “Gentlemen, you’re now working for Colonel Nasser,” Nick recalled an Egyptian officer telling the crew. Nick refused to serve on a British government supply ship after war broke out. On an earlier trip his ship docked at Buenos Aires in Argentina just as huge crowds were turning out for a mass rally in support of Eva Perón. A further ship he served on was “arrested” during a US-backed rebellion against President Sukarno in Indonesia.

Such events politicised Nick. He left the sea after taking part in a strike by members of his seafarers’ union over conditions. In 1961 he returned to the waves by signing up for a Greek ship travelling to Havana, where he met Che Guevara and other leaders of the Cuban revolution.

Nick then worked in a maritime library before studying at the London School of Economics, where he joined the International Socialists, the forerunner of the Socialist Workers party. After graduating in 1964, he got a job teaching in Sheffield, where he was tasked by Tony Cliff, a founding member of the SWP, to build a branch of the International Socialists. Nick became involved in a council rent strike in 1967 and helped draw miners to the IS during the strikes of 1972 and 1974. Working as a tutor and lecturer in adult education at Sheffield University until 1997, he introduced Marxist politics to a generation of miners and steelworkers on day-release courses.

Nick also carried out research in to the maritime industry, which took him to Rio de Janeiro, Lisbon, Cádiz, Hamburg, Helsinki, Rostock and Warnemünde. He also wrote essays on the history of the steelworkers’ unions, the puddlers’ (ironworkers’) unions in the 1860s and a study on teaching art therapy. The Nick Howard Papers, held by Sheffield University, include documents and sound recordings relating to his research on the blockade of Germany after the first world war, as well as contributions to programmes for BBC Radio Sheffield on the history of the labour movement. In later life he was an active member of the Sheffield Pensioners Action Group.

He is survived by his wife, Jenny, and by his children, Rachel, Rebecca and Luke, from his marriage to Ann Howard, which ended in divorce.


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Last updated: 25 February 2017