Tribute to Carole (Harte) Williams
Tribute to Carole (Harte) Williams
I first met Carole through her husband Tom Harte, who I worked with at Birmingham Health and Safety Advice Centre. As it was through her support for Tom’s work and its legacy that health and safety activists know Carole, I will start there.
The video Carole made for the Midlands TUC in 2016 is testimony to the fact that Carole and Tom between them came up with the slogan for Workers Memorial Day: “Remember the dead and fight for the living!”
She knew only too well the effects of the hazards of work, through its effect on Tom at Triplex where he worked, and on the many people that we all organised to help. She recognised that the only way to fight back is to organise at work and in the community and campaign widely. Though it was far from the only important contribution on work hazards that was made, it’s Workers Memorial Day that is the longest lasting legacy from that time, now part of the organising calendar around the world in many countries. Carole, and other members of the family, have always been seen every year ever since at the annual commemorative event in Birmingham.
However, she was so much more in her own right, known mostly as an activist for women’s rights, and it’s for that other side that she will mainly be remembered by so many.
I got to know Carole really well when I later went to work at Birmingham Women’s Advice and Information Centre (BWAIC). Carole was one of the earliest members and was responsible for its direction ever since, working there for over 20 years as the key leadership of the organisation. We remained friends ever since. All who knew her agree how amazing she was and how important her achievements were, though typically she would always stress the collective achievements, and indeed worked hard to make sure that everyone involved did contribute and was listened to.
Carole had a very strong commitment to the working class, in particular the “grass roots” women in the community, a phrase she used often. Campaigning on issues around Women and Poverty was one of the active campaigns we all got involved in as a result, some of which successfully bore fruit. Pressure was brought to bear in many ways, such as lobbying Parliament and various bodies and individuals, including the Regional Assembly, and providing input into research, using anonymized evidence we recorded in the course of our work.
There were numerous campaigns on women’s rights issues, such as the one to keep a woman called Prakesh in this country with her family, after her husband divorced her, and to change the legal principle which meant that she automatically lost all rights and benefits thereby.
She was also active in various causes in the voluntary and community sector, around women or gender issues, in the UK and further afield. For example, she went to Russia with a small group, at some risk to herself, to help voluntary organisations get off the ground there, in a country with next to no previous experience in this sector. She was always trying, and often succeeded, to raise funds to keep BWAIC open, or to pursue a worthwhile project. For example, she secured funding for the post I filled for 3 years. When funding got harder to raise, she went out and gave talks and did training, the fees for which kept BWAIC going for some years.
Thousands of mainly local women benefited from the services of BWAIC, when they had problems of any kind, on anything from domestic violence to loneliness, fear, or indeed anything at all. As well as the public service provided to all, volunteers and women who attended the training courses (which were designed by Carole) benefited greatly from their involvement, often changing the course of their lives in the process.
In my time there, among the issues I was involved with, in conjunction with Carole, were:
- coordinating input from a wide circle of women on their experiences of racism and sexism, which was reported on by a volunteer to an international conference against racism in South Africa, where once again Carole raised the funds to send her
- a well-attended symposium on Women and Bullying
- a Women’s Health Project in the Asian community
- careers and other practical advice sessions from experts
Everything I know about counselling, and put into practice there, I learned from Carole.
What I mainly remember is her kindness, empathy, determination and (often wicked) sense of humour. There was also a great deal of fun and companionship amongst those women who stayed involved, and who continued as a group long after BWAIC eventually ran out of funds, itself a great loss to our community.
From a dedication:
“Remember me as a fighter, a planner, an activist and charmer who would fight her corner so that no one could harm her. A saviour? A protector of women, a source of charity for those who may need me and tea on the terrace with my working-class ladies.” This last point refers to tea on the terrace at the House of Commons with a group lobbying their MPs.
In later years, she married Joe Williams, and she spent many happy days with her new family, including his sons Chris and Joseph, as well as her own children, Kerry and Chris. She spent many happy days surrounded by them and her grandchildren, and was never happier than pottering around with them in her garden. Condolences to them all. We will all miss her greatly.