Obituary: Eileen Cook, 1950-2021

Eileen Cook, who died on 6 October 2021, was a life-long trade unionist, feminist campaigner, and revolutionary socialist. She is much missed by many, including her comrades in Edinburgh rs21 who remember her in this obituary.

Eileen Cook at Athens Social Forum
Eileen Cook, 1 May 1950 – 6 October 2021

Eileen Cook was a brightly shining light, even in the darkest times.  She was a feminist, and a socialist who hated injustice and oppression.

Initially working as a development economist, in later years she shifted towards a focus on political economy and environmental economics.  She was first and foremost a teacher and communicator.  Former students have commented on how she changed their perspectives and influenced their subsequent life choices.

Everyone who worked alongside her in her trade union work, as well as the many other causes she campaigned for tirelessly, would have been impressed by her tenacity. She was unfailingly committed to each and every cause she was fighting for, and at the same time demonstrated admirable restraint and sensitivity in all her interactions with other people. She was always willing to support and encourage others, and many have commented on how much they learned from working alongside her.

Eileen was an active trade unionist all her adult life.  She played a leading role on the NATFHE committee at Langley (later Slough) college in the late 1970s and early 1980s and was an active delegate to NATFHE’s South East regional council.  She started work at the then Dundee Institute of Technology in 1983 (now Abertay University) and was first MSF, and then later UCU, secretary.

Eileen was a long-standing and hugely respected member of the EIS-ULA executive. She was instrumental in building the new EIS branch at what is now Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) in Edinburgh and worked tirelessly to establish better pay and conditions at an institution which paid its staff worse than any other higher education establishment in the UK.

In this capacity she demonstrated a dedication to rank-and-file trade unionism and socialism from below that was an inspiration to many. She fought tirelessly for her colleagues at SRUC (whose current strike action owes a lot to her determination), was always pushing at the limits of the union bureaucracy and was forever on the side of the underdog. Polite, calmly spoken, extremely knowledgeable and very eloquent in meetings, Eileen was able to puncture a bad argument with the sharpest of quips, putting any manager who found themselves on the opposite side of the negotiating table firmly in their place!

Eileen was passionate about many causes with a fierce commitment to the fight for a better world.  In the 70s she was on the picket line every day of both the Chix and Grunwick strikes that did so much to bring anti-racism into the mainstream of workplace struggle.

She was a lifelong anti-war campaigner active in CND, Stop the War, Women in Black and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, active in the Scottish Abortion Campaign and then Abortion Rights Scotland and in many other campaigns. Every week Eileen could be found standing outside the local abortion clinic, defending a woman’s right to choose.  She was also a great supporter of Palestine and was standing every Saturday with Women in Black right up until she went into hospital. Eileen was also very active in the Scottish independence campaign.

Even in more recent times, when her cancer rendered her personal circumstances extremely difficult, she still managed to make invaluable and memorable contributions to many protests and meetings, whether in person or online.

Edinburgh has lost one of its stalwart activists and is the poorer for it. However, her impact and influence still live on as an example to us all and we carry her fighting spirit forward.

Eileen, may you forever rest in power!

Edinburgh rs21 comrades

Woman holds sign reading 'Women in Black remember Eileen - a bonnie fechter'.

1 COMMENT

  1. I will miss Eileen very much. I remember fondly when I travelled to Edinburgh in 2017 and stayed with Eileen and Pete overnight, and I hold onto the memory of talking with her into the late evening about novels. I asked her if there was one book she would recommend, and she lent me a beautiful novel I think was called Daughter of the Earth, which I didn’t return to her until much later. The book reflected what were clearly her lifelong passions: the struggle and resilience of working class women, their personal and intimate experiences of both oppression and struggle, ecology and history. As an editor, I would often turn to Eileen to write on feminist history, and what she wrote was reflective of her long experience in these areas, and her thoughtful countenance. Our last conversations before she became unwell were about the harms women experience at the hands of powerful men and how we fight them, challenge them in practice. I send solidarity to her closest friends and family; she will be missed and remain cherished. The wins she played a part in have paved the way for women (and everyone!) in my generation, and I’m certain she will not be forgotten.

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