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Alec Thraves

Muriel Browning’s chapter
in working-class history
is guaranteed

(July 1988)

From Militant, No. 908, 22 July 1988, p. 11.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

MURIEL BROWNING, Marxist, trade unionist and Labour Party member for almost half a century, died peacefully at home in Llanelli on 14 July after a relatively short illness.

For a Marxist, the struggle against the Tories and their decaying capitalist system comes almost as second nature. The battle against Labour’s right-wing witch-hunters we take in our stride.

But to write an obituary about a comrade who was respected in the labour movement, inspired all those fortunate enough to have met her and was loved by many is an extremely daunting task.

Muriel’s record in the labour movement in Wales stands second to none. A tireless fighter for the rights of the working people, she was a TGWU shop steward in Morris Motors (later BL) for over 20 years.

She was a delegate to national and regional committees of the union, Swansea Trades Council and Llanelli Labour Party general management committee (GMC) where she held most positions, including President when Denzil Davies MP was selected as candidate for the constituency.

However it was her contribution in the Labour women’s movement, in which Muriel stood out as an uncompromising defender of Marxism, which impressed supporters and drew the begrudging respect of opponents.

Many local campaigns were instigated by Llanelli Women’s Council, of which she was the secretary for many years. During the miners’ strike it came as no surprise to see Muriel elected chair of the Cynheidre Miners’ Support Group. She raised thousands of pounds and was always prominent on the picket lines at 5 o’clock on those freezing mornings.

Despite her impressive record in the movement, steps were being taken by Llanelli’s right-wing witch-hunters to expel Muriel because of her links with Militant.

Some, with just a couple of years’ membership, were claiming that Muriel was trying to infilitrate the party – after 40 years’ membership!

Right-wing careerists who use the movement for personal advancement will never understand the power of the Marxist ideas which inspire comrades like Muriel.

In her sixties she could still be seen every Saturday morning in Llanelli town centre selling Militant. She participated regularly on estate sales and was the first to encourage younger comrades to go with her on an early-morning factory sale.

Even though Muriel spent the last 18 months of her life fighting her expulsion threat, she had the satisfaction of knowing that those who really counted had not forgotten the role she had played in the movement.

It was significant that workers who had been in struggle defended Muriel. On the Llanelli GMC, NUM, NUR and TGWU delegates were the most vociferous in their opposition to the attacks on her.

If she had been able to see it through to the end, Muriel was confident that the witch-hunt would have been defeated. She remarked at the time: “I’m certainly not demoralised. It makes me want to fight all the more. This witch-hunt has strengthened my belief in Marxist ideas.”

As a number of her opponents and even some Militant supporters have experienced, a tongue-lashing from Muriel was the verbal equivalent of a machine-gun assault. Class compromise was dealt with particularly sharply. Sloppiness, cynicism and pessimism had no part in Muriel’s vocabulary.

This hard exterior hid an extremely soft and caring centre. Comrades visiting Muriel’s home never went away hungry, although sometimes they came out drunk after a few glasses of her home-made wine. She literally brought up some of the best Marxists in the South Wales and British labour movement, organised, educated, fed and clothed them.

For the thousands of Militant supporters at the South Wales Summer Camp, Muriel was as much a permanent feature as Ted Grant. She was always responsible for the catering and comrades remember camps not always for the success of the speakers but more often by the strength of Muriel’s curries.

She was the first to acknowledge that much of what she achieved would have been impossible without the support of her family. Harry, her husband, an active trade unionist in his own right, was an invaluable ally along with the patience and understanding of her daughters Cheryl and Dianne.

The life of a working-class women under capitalism is difficult enough. For a wife, mother and grandmother to play any kind of role in the labour movement would have been impossible without their support.

Muriel was fortunate that even after Harry was taken ill, she had a family who understood her loyalty not only to her own family but also to her class.

We send our condolences to Harry, Cheryl, Dianne and Muriel’s grand-children and family. We thank them for allowing us a share in her life.

When answering her right-wing critics 18 months ago, Muriel said: “I’ll be in the Labour Party when these witch-hunters are long forgotten”. Those political minnows are already forgotten, whereas Muriel Browning’s chapter in working-class history is guaranteed.

We salute the passing of an outstanding Marxist. Farewell Muriel-comrade, friend and class fighter. Forward to socialism!

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