RIP Mike Howard: A Jewish Socialist Whose Family Fled from the Pogroms in Poland and Lithuania
Being Jewish Mike was a natural target for suspension from Starmer’s Labour Party
Mike Howard was one of eight people who took the Labour Party to court over its disciplinary process for investigating complaints of anti-Semitism. Below I reprint, without permission!, the tribute that Jewish Voices for Labour, of which Mike was a member, paid to him.
Mike was a Jewish Socialist all his life and fought racism and anti-Semitism consistently. He was also an active trade unionist and a councillor till recently on Hastings Borough Council. His suspension from the Labour Party for ‘anti-Semitism’ says everything you need to know about the bogus nature of the ‘anti-Semitism’ accusations which are being levelled at Jews today in Labour today.
The fact that if you are Jewish you are 5 times more likely to be suspended from Labour under Starmer than if you are not says everything you need to know about how genuine was Starmer’s pledge to ‘root out’ anti-Semitism.
Unfortunately this did not start with Starmer. It was under Jeremy Corbyn that the anti-Semitism witchhunt took off when people like myself were expelled or suspended. Unfortunately Corbyn went along with this bogus narrative until it got him too. The fast track procedures now being used to expel and suspend hundreds of members were patented by Corbyn and Jennie Formby.
It is shameful that Corbyn says nothing about the legacy he has left. Instead of lapping up cheap applause and playing the martyr, he should come out publicly and criticise what is happening. Corbyn’s inability to make even one word of direct criticism of Starmer demonstrates that even if he had won the election in 2017 and even if the Labour Right had agreed to vote him in as Prime Minister, that he would have wilted at the first sign of opposition.
Undoubtedly for someone like Mike, as with all of us, to be accused of anti-Semitism when you have spent your life opposing it, is hurtful. That is why the Labour Right, which doesn’t give a tinker’s cuss about anti-Semitism or any other form of racism, make the allegations. These accusations are deliberately made to cause hurt and distress.
We should contrast this with the readmission to the Labour Party in recent weeks of one of the vilest racists on the Labour Right – Luke Stanger, a friend of Hove MP Peter Kyle, who worked in the office of Joan Ryan, former Chair of Labour Friends of Israel. Apart from multiple complaints of harassment from women in the Labour Party Stanger is on record as saying that Travellers are ‘a nasty blight on society.’
Under Starmer genuine racists are always welcome in the Labour Party whereas anti-racists are expelled. It is unfortunate that some on the Left such as Jon Lansman, Owen Jones and David Renton, are unable to see through this Zionist campaign of vilification which defames good Jewish socialists like Mike.
We should pay tribute to someone who was a Jewish hero. Those who suspended Mike for ‘antisemitism’ weren’t fit to lick his boots.
Sat 13 Nov 2021
It is with deep regret that we announce that JVL member and long-term fighter for socialism, Mike Howard died after a short illness, with his close family at his side, in the early hours of Thursday 11th November 2021.
Many readers of our website will recognise and remember Mike as one of the Labour Activists for Justice (LA4J) who had been treated so abysmally by the Party to which he dedicated more than 45 years of his life. He died a committed socialist and still angry with the Labour Party that had suspended him, a Jewish anti-racist, for antisemitism.
You can get a taste of his anger, his willingness to challenge and a little of his background on this video from a Labour Grassroots show dedicated to those involved in LA4J .
Mike was born in Hackney in 1952 to socialist parents whose families had fled from the threat of pogroms in Lithuania and Poland. He always said he learned about internationalism as a child and this informed his philosophy and his activism throughout his life.
He left school fairly early, in part because of antisemitic bullying and was later educated at Newcastle University (where he was active in the National Organisation of Labour Students) and became a librarian. He was active in the Labour Party Young Socialists in the 1970s – at a time when political education was a major focus – and it was there that he met his wife Dee. In time Mike became (step)father to Dee’s daughter Jenny and they had a son, Robin together.
After graduating he spent some years in the North East then moved to London continuing his work as a librarian. In Lambeth he was a shop steward and also a Convenor for NALGO (and the Unison) and supported many workers, not least representing the Union in many tribunals.
He was also a committed supporter of Wimbledon Football Club and was involved in turning it into a supporter-owned club remaining in Wimbledon, rather than moving to help the owners to profit.
In Hastings he was well known as an activist, committed to justice for Palestinians and, from 2012-2018 he was an elected councillor in what had mainly been a Tory ward. He is remembered as an effective councillor, supporting local residents in a number of campaigns as well as doing individual case work and, of course, serving on committees. He stood down at the 2018 elections to care for his wife.
You can see him talking about his role in Labour Activists for Justice, trying to hold the Labour Party to account and to democratic principles in the video below:
Very many tributes have been received in the first 36 hours after he died which show what sort of a person he was and why he will be so badly missed. Many refer to his appalling treatment by the Labour Party.
Many have commented on how friendly he was and for many younger people and others who joined when Jeremy Corbyn was elected, it was Mike who welcomed them, made sure they were invited to the pub after meetings. Several have said that they learned so much from him, about the history of the Party and of the wider movement.
Here are some extracts:
Peter Chowney, who was Deputy Leader in Hastings most of the time that Mike was a councillor:
He was a good comrade, and a very good local councillor – the only Labour councillor to successfully defend West St Leonards ward. And a fellow former Hackney Labour Party member! Such a pity he had to spend his last days defending himself against this awful witchhunt. I shall miss him.
Peter Doyle, Jen Pickard and John Pickard – some friends in the North East:
“We are saddened to hear of the sudden and untimely death of Mike Howard, a member of Hastings and Rye Labour Party, in the early hours of November 11. Mike was one of those left-wing members facing suspension by the Party on the spurious grounds of ‘anti-Semitism’, a deeply ironic charge considering his Jewish background. We knew Mike from his time in the Labour Party Young Socialists in Gateshead where we were members and where he was also an active member of the local government union, NALGO.
Mike, who came from a family tradition of socialist ideas, was a Marxist and a supporter of Militant in his days in the North East. He was always a friendly, comradely and cheerful person to know. Mike wrote an excellent article for Left Horizons late last year, on how unfit for purpose Labour’s disciplinary process is, in his own and in other cases… Mike will be a great loss, not only to his family, but to the whole labour movement and those who knew him…”
Simon Hester (local Unite Community Branch member):
I only got to know Mike over the past year but, it’s strange, it feels like I knew him a lot longer. He was such a friendly and welcoming comrade. For socialists of a certain age we have been through so many struggles together it seems to have created an unspoken bond, a shared tradition. I have absolutely no doubt which side Mike was on in the great campaigns against racism, during the miners’ strike, the poll tax campaign, the antiwar movement. Over the past few months I kept bumping into him and Dee at protests over Palestine, NHS pay, refugee rights and the Police Bill. And I won’t forget his outrage and eloquence in challenging the witchhunt of socialists and anti-Zionists in the Labour Party. The movement has lost a principled socialist, an internationalist and anti-racist, and above all, an anti-Zionist Jew. His hope for a socialist future will live on in the growing movements of young people …
Carel Buxton, Chair West Ham CLP (suspended 21 March):
I met him only once and that was at LP conference in 2019 as I recall. Mike made a lasting impression on me because of his warmth, his humour and his clear dedication to socialist ideas. Both of us have roots in the east end and we talked about our great fighting tradition. I still live in West Ham but was born in Hastings, Mike’s life journey was from Hackney to Hastings or rather Mugsborough as we called it. He was a hero of our class and I send you my deepest condolences.
Such sad news for the local Labour Party. Such a lovely man, so rooted in the human dignity and decency of socialism and so unfairly targeted and isolated by the party he cherished his whole life…. I wish more people were like Mike Howard… So heartbreaking. Rest with peace, love and power x
Those who disciplined Mike did a terrible wrong not just to him, but to the justice and bravery contained in his political positions. It is a cruel thing that Mike had to go with this insult done to him, and to everything good he stood for.
Through you, and with my thanks, I send my solidarity to his family and comrades.
Rica Bird (JVL member; Wirral South CLP):
This is indeed a sad blow, and even more cruel considering his mistreatment at the hands of the Labour Party. Although I didn’t know him, I gather his life has been a gift to all combating oppression and leaves a great legacy for the rest of us to follow.
I keep thinking for those who have been summarily expelled, those suspended, or ‘under investigation’ and those who have simply left, that it is not we who have left the Party, it truly IS the Party has left us!!
Jewish members and others file court claim against Labour for breach of EHRC principles after party tells them: ‘EHRC does not apply to you’
Mike Howard (68) Member of Hastings & Rye CLP. Active Labour Party member for over thirty-five years, holding office in six CLP’s during this time. Twice elected Hastings Borough Councillor. Retired (former office-holding) Unison life member. Unite Community, JVL and PSC. He is a Jewish, lifelong anti-racist whose family escaped the murderous pogroms in pre-war Russia/Poland and fought the fascists in their East London neighbourhood. Mike has suffered real anti-semitism, and finds it completely unacceptable that Labour Party HQ, knowing that he is Jewish, has not responded to his solicitors’ request to drop an anonymous complainant’s accusations of anti-semitism against him which is based on the process the EHRC found was unfair and based on a code the Party will not publish.
Jewish members say Starmer’s pursuit of them ‘makes a mockery’ of claim to be making Labour safe for Jews
We are appalled by the large and growing number of Jewish members of the Labour Party – including ourselves – who have recently been subject to disciplinary proceedings related to alleged antisemitism. This fact alone – over and above the trumped up and politicised nature of the charges – makes a mockery of Keir Starmer’s commitment to ensuring Labour is a safe space for Jews.
It is now abundantly clear that this commitment does not cover discrimination against Jewish socialists. On the contrary, Starmer’s abuse of our Jewish identity and his willingness to exploit antisemitism as a political football is shameful and harmful not only to freedom of expression, but also to the fight against real antisemitism and racism of all forms, both in and outside of the Labour Party.