Workers World

George Harrison
Irish freedom fighter, revolutionary socialist

By Bill Cecil
New York

Several hundred people packed the 1199 hospital workers' union hall in Manhattan on Oct. 20 to honor Irish freedom fighter George Harrison. He died in his Brooklyn home Oct. 6 at the age of 89.

Speakers at the memorial included David Dinkins, New York City's first Black mayor, New York Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin, secretary of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Moe Fishman, and Sandy Boyer of Radio Free Eireann. A representative of Republican Sinn Fein flew in from Dublin to address the gathering.

Harrison was born May 2, 1915, in Shammer, County Mayo, in an Ireland oppressed and impoverished by British occupation. A year after his birth the Easter Rising, which was crushed by British troops, took place. Its executed leaders James Connolly and Padraic Pearse would become Harrison's heroes.

As a young man Harrison worked as a wheelwright and a stonecutter. At age 15, he enlisted in the East Mayo Battalion of the Irish Republican Army.

The Depression forced Harrison to leave Ireland. He first went to England, where, like many Irish emigrants, he picked crops and labored on building sites. In 1938 he came to New York, working first as a bartender and then on the docks. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and later became a security guard for Brinks Armor. Working at Brinks for 30 years, he fought for justice as a shop steward and union organizer.

For most of that time Harrison secretly fought for justice on another front: running arms to the IRA.

To Harrison, the fight for Irish freedom was one with the world struggle against imperialism and racism. He stood vigil every week outside the British Consulate in New York to support the Irish people. And he was at every march against war and racism or in solidarity with the people of South Africa, Palestine and Latin America.

"You can't appreciate George Harrison without his passionate hatred of racism," recalled Sandy Boyer at the memorial. "He worked day in and day out to elect David Dinkins as the first African-American mayor of New York City. Even after Dinkins lost his race for a second term, George called him the people's mayor. George would no more recognize Rudy Giuliani as the mayor of his city than he would recognize British rule in Ireland.

"I remember how thrilled George was when we organized an Irish event that raised $10,000 to rebuild the burned Black churches in the South," Boyer continued. "He called me the next morning to say, 'We gave racism and imperialism a good kick in the ass.'"

Boyer also described Harrison as the "most thoroughgoing anti-imperialist I have ever met."

In 1981 the Reagan regime prosecuted Harrison, Tom Falvey, Michael Flannery, Paddy Mullens and Tommy Gormley for arming Irish freedom fighters. The "IRA Five" refused to deny the charges but waged a political defense. Witnesses on Harrison's behalf included Irish leader Bernadette Devlin McAliskey and Sam Gulabe, United Nations representative of the African National Congress. (Dr. Gulabe, then known as David Ndaba, is today a colonel in the South African army and physician to Nelson Mandela.) The five were acquitted.

Harrison gave generously to many projects in Ireland, including a memorial to Irish volunteer Tommy Patton, who died fighting fascism in the Spanish Civil War. In the late 1980s, he supported Republican Sinn Fein, which broke with Sinn Fein over the nationalist party's decision to enter the Irish parliament.

Four years ago, in failing health, George Harrison marched in his last street demonstration. It was to protest the acquittal of the four New York cops who murdered African immigrant Amadou Diallo.

But he never stopped thinking of the struggle. On the day he died, Harrison penned a verse for the Republican Sinn Fein newspaper Saiorse:

"May the spirit of those who suffered in the torture chambers of the Empire of Hell animate us with enough strength to free the land of our heart's desire. In dedication to all my comrades--the living and the dead."

Reprinted from the Nov. 4, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper
This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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