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Obituary written for the Guardian.
My father, Will Fancy, who has died aged 76, was a life-long socialist and trade unionist. He joked that the high point of his career came during the strike wave of the early 1970s, when he was on the national executive of the Nalgo local government officers’ union and the Daily Mail described him as “the most dangerous man in Britain” – “for that week”, he would add drily.
Will’s father was a lorry driver and his mother a factory machinist. He was the first of five brothers and sisters, and the only one to go to grammar school. His west London family benefited from the postwar Labour government: “After 15 years on the waiting list, we moved into a council house.” Will stood in school elections as an independent before deciding at 17 that “collective action was necessary”. He joined the Labour League of Youth, signed his family up to the Co-op and formed a trade union in his sixth form.
When he won a place at Exeter University to study economics, his mother regretted she could afford only a patched secondhand gown for him to wear. When he became president of the students’ union, he organised protests against the compulsory wearing of gowns. At student conferences, Will crossed paths with Roy Hattersley, and to Will’s amusement later appeared in Lord Hattersley’s memoirs described in less than flattering terms. More importantly, through student politics he met Julie Boston, who became his wife.
As an early CND supporter and anti-war activist, Will refused to do national service and was sent to prison for a week for sitting in front of a warplane with Bertrand Russell and the Committee of 100. Disillusionment with Labour led Will to join the Socialist Review Group – the forerunner of the Socialist Workers party (SWP).
During the 1960s and 70s Will was instrumental in turning Nalgo (later Unison) from a conservative staff association into a militant white-collar union. During this period of growing industrial militancy, he spoke at meetings and picket lines up and down the country, sharing platforms with the jailed striker (now actor) Ricky Tomlinson and the civil rights MP Bernadette Devlin. But after the defeats of trade unions in the early 1980s Will became a full-time union secretary and fell out with his comrades in the SWP.
Suffering from the hereditary illness Paget’s disease, Will retired at 60 and followed Julie to Bristol. He researched his family tree and local history, and travelled the world, visiting sites of ancient civilisations and his six Papua New Guinean grandchildren.
Despite ill health and the hearing difficulties that eventually prevented him from attending political meetings, he did not abandon his beliefs, and in his last years produced a monthly bulletin for the Socialist and Environment Resources Association. Even after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer he kept campaigning: as he lay in his hospital bed, too weak to read, he had two letters published in the Bristol Evening Post.
Will’s life was one of occasional victories and frequent frustrations, but he was always driven by the dream of a better world for all. He is survived by Julie, his brother and sisters, three children, 11 grandchildren and a great-grandson.
a second obituary written for Socialist Worker with added quotes from some of his friends and comrades…
Will Fancy, who died on 29 July aged 76, was a life-long socialist and trade unionist.
He joked that the high point of his career was during the strike wave of the early 1970s when the Daily Mail described him as “the most dangerous man in Britain” – “for that week”, he would add dryly.
Will’s father was a lorry driver and his mother a factory machinist. He was the first of five children.
Deciding at 17 that “collective action was necessary”, Will joined the Labour League of Youth, signed his family up to the Co-op and formed a trade union in his sixth form.
Disillusionment with Labour led Will to join the Socialist Review Group, the forerunner of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).
John Palmer writes, “I have fond memories of our years together in the Socialist Review Group and the International Socialists.
“I always liked his dry wit and easy manner with those with whom he debated ideas.”
In the early 1960s he began working for Lewisham council. It is his work in the Nalgo union, now part of Unison, and the rank and file Nalgo Action Group (NAG) that Will is best remembered for by his comrades.
Geoff Woolfe recalls, “During the London Weighting dispute in 1973-4, Will was instrumental in getting the Nalgo branch to organise to make sure the workforce supported industrial action.
“It was touch and go. The branch’s old guard was hostile to real trade unionism and without his efforts we would have failed to get branch support for the action.”
Will was one of the first NAG supporters to be elected to the union’s ruling body in 1972.
In March 1974 he chaired the national rank and file conference in Birmingham, which drew together activists from across the trade unions.
Enid Khan, a NAG supporter in Leicester, recalls, “I always had such admiration for Will. His views were always rational and thought-provoking.”
With the unions’ defeats in the early 1980s Will became a full-time union secretary, fell out with his comrades in the SWP and left the party.
He retired at 60 and followed his partner Julie to Bristol.
The final words must go to NAG activist Paul Bream, “Will was authoritative without being domineering, knowledgeable without being arrogant. Everybody recognised Will’s commitment to fighting for a society that served the interests of working people.”
Will is survived by Julie, his three children, 11 grandkids and a great grandson.
60 years of socialist campaigning: A celebration of Will’s life will be held on Saturday 21 November in Bristol.
these feet have crossed continents
these hands are working hands and here to help
this heart is a human heart and beats with dark red blood
this mouth needs to breath and needs to eat
these eyes can see sense and see through fences
can we see these people?
can we see we are these people?