Ken Weller obituary

Other Lives: Libertarian socialist who was a member of the direct action group Spies for Peace

My friend Ken Weller, who has died aged 85, was probably the last surviving member of the Spies for Peace, a small group of libertarian leftists from the direct-action wing of the peace movement who in 1963 broke into a government bunker near Reading.

Their pamphlet revealing “warfare state” preparations for elite survival after a nuclear attack created a political storm, and police raided Weller’s home searching for the perpetrators. But the Spies had covered their tracks. No one was arrested and Ken spoke on the record of his involvement only in 2010.

The action at Reading was one of many headline-grabbing direct actions that Ken was involved in. He and others in the libertarian socialist group Solidarity occupied the Russian embassy in London in 1961 to protest against the Soviet Union’s nuclear arms programme, and in 1966 he was among a body of demonstrators who disrupted the Labour party’s annual conference church service, heckling Harold Wilson over the US war in Vietnam.

Ken was born in Islington, north London, to George Weller and his wife, Christine (nee O’Toole), who had both died by the time he was in his late teens. After leaving school at 15 he became an electrical engineer and in the late 1960s joined the Ford car plant in Dagenham, where he was a shop floor organiser.

When he was 35, coming back from a night shift at Ford, Ken was knocked off his motorbike by a drink-driver and severely injured; soon afterwards he and his wife, Gwyn (nee Owen) separated and eventually divorced, leaving him to bring up their young son, Owen. Unable to do manual work from that point onwards, Ken had to survive on benefits for the next three decades.

However, he used his time to become a prolific writer on what Solidarity – influenced by the French review Socialisme ou Barbarie – saw as the growth of self-managed working-class militancy against both capitalist managerialism and bureaucratic official trade unionism.

He wrote a number of pamphlets, including Strategy for Industrial Struggle (1972), which made headlines in the News of the World for advocating sabotage and sit-ins. His best work was a book on the 1914-18 London anti-war movement, Don’t be a Soldier! (1987).

Despite increasing physical disability, Ken always remained cheerful and generous to friends, journalists and historians. He is survived by Owen.

Chris Spannos

The GuardianTramp

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