Joe Eyre, former president of EIS College Lecturers’ Association

Born: September 27, 1947;

Died: May 2, 2020.

JOE Eyre’s lifelong socialist principles led him to become an active trade union member. A lecturer, he was elected as branch secretary of the EIS College Lecturers’ Association at Langside College, Glasgow, and worked tirelessly for members at local level.

But he also believed firmly in the power of a union at a national level. He was a founder of the rank-and-file organisation, Fightback, holding to the principle that a union’s first duty is to properly represent the interests of its members; in order to make that happen, lay activists had to win the trust of members in the union’s democratic elections.

He served on branch, regional and national committees, eventually becoming EIS CLA President in 1996. His belief that unions should be controlled and led by their lay members laid the foundation for many of the victories earned by the union after his retirement.

In terms of organisation, tactics and commitment, Joe Eyre, who has died, aged 72, after a short illness, is still viewed with reverence by the current crop of union activists. His passion and eloquence during union conferences are remembered by many. He could use humour and justified anger in equal measure, never losing sight of the key points of any proposal. He gave of his time willingly to many younger activists, often in post-conference meetings in pubs where he would provide invaluable advice, and not a few pints and half-pints.

He saw his union work as part of a great historic movement towards a time when workers would win control over every aspect of their social existence, forming a piece with the rest of his decades of political activism. He also fought to defend further education as a public service, opposing the move to take colleges out of council control.

Joseph Loughran Eyre was born in Plains, North Lanarkshire, the son of miner Johnie and his wife Lizzie, who worked at Burroughs in Cumbernauld. He had three siblings – John, David and Moyra.

He went to St Patrick’s High School in Coatbridge, part of a generation of young people from Irish Catholic backgrounds who were determined to make a place for themselves in Scottish civic life. At school, his interest in history and politics was kindled, alongside a lifelong appreciation of art. He already had a love of nature, born during long walks with his father in the countryside.

Michael Connarty, his close friend, and the former Labour MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, then Falkirk East, remembers their school days at St Patrick’s. “It was like adding another brother to our families. We bumped and stumbled through the experiences of our teenage years together. Going up to Joe’s at Plains on the eastern edge of Lanarkshire’s conurbation was a wonderland.

“We wandered up the Torrance brae, hunted for peewits’ nests across Blawhorn Moss, cooling off in the Hillend Reservoir. When Joe talked about nature through those times it was with a passion that I recalled many years later when I read Nan Shepherd’s book, The Living Mountain, about her love of the Cairngorms.”

During his time studying history at Glasgow University, Joe was active in student politics and often visited Stirling, where Connarty and other close friends, John McNab and Gordon Morgan, were studying.

After graduation, and marriage to Penny Cole, he taught history at St Ninian’s High School, Kirkintilloch. He was active in the East Dunbartonshire Labour Party, and an election agent for the party in the general elections of 1974. Their sons, David and Michael, were born in 1972 and 1973 respectively.

The family moved to Perth, and then to the Fintry area of Dundee where Joe and Penny were active members of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party. They separated in 1977, and Joe began a career in further education at Dumfries College. He later lectured at West Lothian College, in Bathgate, and Langside College

He later married again, to a much-respected special needs teacher, Jane Lynch. Their daughter Eiblín was born in 1988. Alongside Jane’s daughter Rebecca, the number of siblings in the family quickly grew from two to four, making for a busy life in the family’s two-bedroom flat in Cathcart.

Following his early retirement, Joe devoted a lot of time to the Scottish Socialist Party, especially during the party’s successful 2003 Scottish Parliament campaign. He was part of the campaigns to save Govanhill Baths and to oppose the building of the M74 extension.

He also became a reporter for the G41 and G42 community newspapers in the southside of Glasgow. He won a prize in the 2008 Oxfam Refugee Week Scottish Media Awards, following his detailed examination of the state of private accommodation being offered to Glasgow’s asylum seekers, paid for from the public purse.

He was an outspoken opponent of what he described was the misuse of money by colleges. Writing to the Sunday Herald in 2002, he said: “Last week one Glasgow college placed an advertisement in the press for a PR guru to raise its media profile. How much more sexy than employing another teacher; how much more beneficial to the students! The misuse of taxpayers’ money by colleges since their incorporation in 1993 is a national disgrace”.

He loved nothing better than chatting with friends in a pub, where his charm and good humour were always evident. He also enjoyed being a third-generation supporter of Celtic. His death was a blow to his family and friends. He is survived by children Eiblín, Mick and Dave, and by grandchildren John, Ava and Orlaith.