Dennis Pearce, zany union man who fought injustice
His outrageous exterior concealed a serious interior – even if he battled to keep it well disguised
24 June, 2019 — By Bernard Miller
WITH a collection of glasses that would make Dame Edna green with envy and a talent for one-liner putdowns that often left targets and observers in heaps of laughter, Dennis Pearce, who died peacefully in his sleep last month, cut an unusual figure for a local union branch chairman.
He had a talent for making the fight for serious human rights issues fun and the battle against injustice unspeakably flamboyant.
Those who worked with him over the last three years in Unite Community Camden, where he was first Secretary, then chairman, were ceaselessly impressed by his enthusiasm, determination and zaniness.
From a die-in in the lobby of University College Hospital to support the NHS, to attention-grabbing physical demonstrations against Universal Credit and benefits sanctions deaths and campaigns for immigrants’ rights – despite major health battles of his own – he contributed to and squeezed the best out of others in countless high-profile campaigns.
Described by a friend as bossy and cantankerous, his outrageous exterior concealed a serious interior – even if he battled to keep it well disguised.
With great attention to detail, determination not to let important issues drop, and a formidable range of communication skills, he researched and provided information and support for individuals facing all sort of problems. We knew him as an ideas person, one never to shun the limelight.
His volunteer work in local and national organisations spanned gay rights groups, working alongside Muslim mothers in a Camden credit union, and a mentoring programme for young people.
Many experienced his help on an individual basis, dishing out serious factual information to people facing benefits cuts, homelessness because of withdrawal of benefits or destitution because they had not been informed of their rights.
He accompanied members to PIP (personal independence payment) assessments and corresponded with the leader of Camden Council to insist that nobody, council, housing association or private tenant, be made homeless because of poverty due to the imposition of Universal Credit.
Living for several decades with HIV and a series of cancers, he underwent multiple surgeries yet always remained cheerful – if feisty.
He had nothing but admiration for the main doctor who co-ordinated his care, Patrick French, highlighting his own experiences in a series of video clips Unite Community Camden produced on the importance of the NHS in our lives.
At his request, instead of a funeral, a group of close friends celebrated his life at The Sun pub in Holborn on June 2 where just over a year earlier he had celebrated his 60th birthday with them, sharing the story of how, after his sister advertised in a local newspaper for a ticket to let him see the Ziggy Stardust tour in Rochester, Dartford or even Gravesend, with his mind blown by David Bowie, Dennis realised there was more to life than the Medway Towns.
He never looked back.
The battles facing us now are greater than ever. As we try to generate ideas for our August 1 campaign for scrapping Universal Credit, focusing on School Holiday Hunger, we know Dennis’s ideas, like his personality, would have far outshone our modest efforts. To say he will be missed would be a pathetic understatement.
He would have managed something far more attention grabbing.