Stephen Coats, One of Our Heroes

By Lynda Yanz, Maquila Solidarity Network

USLEAP Director Stephen Coats posing next to a barrel of Paraquat, a pesticide banned in the European Union.Like all of you who knew and worked with Stephen, we at the
Maquila Solidarity Network were shocked when we got the news on Tuesday morning
about his death. I still can’t believe it is true; nor can I imagine the next
few years (and the challenges we face as a movement) without him.

Over the past almost 20 years of MSN’s existence, Stephen has been the
friend and colleague we always turned to for advice before contacting brands or
launching a campaign about another case of worker rights abuses or a government
or corporate policy issue. In recent years, we managed to cajole Stephen into
involvement in garment cases, despite the fact USLEAP wasn’t making the garment
sector a priority any more. Stephen was one of our heroes.

Stephen was always brutally honest about any campaign’s chances of
success, and for him that meant, will this result in worker organization and
improvements in workers’ lives.  He seemed to embody that Gramscian dictum
of pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will – the challenge of
fighting for workers’ rights in a difficult historical period without illusions
and without becoming disillusioned. Stephen was a thoughtful steady hand in the
labour rights movement.  He was also a special friend and a kind and
generous man, generous with his time, his thoughts, and his advice. We will
miss him dearly.