Tribute to Sylvia Courtnage
Sylvia Courtnage - © Private
4 September 2019
The NUJ's book branch has lost an outstanding branch and workplace activist in Sylvia Courtnage, who died of cancer on 23 June aged 68.
Sylvia, a committed socialist since the 1970s and a supporter of the newspaper Socialist Appeal, began her trade union career in the Inland Revenue Staff Federation. However, by the late 1980s she was a member of the NUJ freelance branch, working initially for various Pearson financial titles. Sylvia later became a staffer at Tolley, eventually absorbed into LexisNexis.
By 2005 Sylvia was established in the union's book branch, soon becoming a committee member and holding various branch offices including chair. She finally took over the vital and unpopular role of treasurer, which she was still efficiently carrying out until not long before she died. Sylvia was also a hardworking and unflappable branch representative at NUJ delegate meetings.
It was in the LexisNexis chapel that Sylvia’s qualities of determination and intelligent leadership would be most thoroughly tested. She was actively involved in the chapel’s successful campaign for recognition, and was joint MoC through a series of disputes over matters such as pay, redundancies and outsourcing.
In 2007 and 2011 the chapel returned strong mandates in ballots for industrial action on pay. On both occasions Sylvia was instrumental in using those ballot results as negotiating leverage, and the chapel settled for improved terms.
Her calm, personable negotiating style coupled with her ability to win members’ trust for the fight ahead was an irresistible force. Her gentle persuasiveness also made her an excellent recruiter for the NUJ.
An enthusiast for lifelong learning, Sylvia took a first degree in her twenties, an MA in her forties, and when she retired in 2016 had already embarked on a PhD at London Metropolitan University. She was prevented by illness from completing all the case studies intended to illustrate her thesis on the trade union response to outsourcing (inspired by her experiences at LexisNexis), but the university found the quality of her work so high that it awarded her the doctorate posthumously.
Sylvia will be much missed in the NUJ, but especially by her husband and comrade Phil Sharpe.