Trade union giant Rodney Bickerstaffe dies
Tributes have been paid to Rodney Bickerstaffe, the former UNISON general secretary and a giant of the labour movement in the NHS, who died on 3 October.
Bickerstaffe, a tireless campaigner for low-paid workers and an early champion of a national minimum wage, led the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) from 1983 to 1992 and was general secretary of UNISON from 1996 to 2001.
"Rodney, or Bick as he was known to many, was a great personal friend to many of us and a dedicated champion of all the union members he proudly represented throughout his career," said UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis. "He coupled a great sense of humour and love of laughter with a deep-rooted sense of social justice and commitment to UNISON."
Bickerstaffe's ferocious attacks on low pay and inequality made him a darling of trade union and Labour Party conferences, but he was also a pragmatic and thoughtful trade unionist, who managed to stay on good terms with both Tony Blair and Arthur Scargill. His long campaign against poverty pay – which was not always supported by other union leaders – finally bore fruit when the national minimum wage was introduced in April 1999 – while Blair was prime minister and Bickerstaffe was UNISON leader.
Blair praised Bickerstaffe's "great service to his members" and "his contribution to Britain". He said: "Where we had our disagreements, he was firm but always friendly… and knew at a profound level the importance of having a Labour government. Rodney had a great sense of humour, no pretensions despite his success and was wonderful company."
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who worked with Bickerstaffe as a NUPE area officer in the 1970s, said: "Rodney was a warm, decent and principled man, an outstanding trade unionist and socialist, and a great friend and support to me over many years… Thank you Rodney for being a pal, a leader and a very decent human being."
Bickerstaffe was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the merger between NUPE, the Confederation of Health Service Employees and the white-collar local government union NALGO, which came together to form UNISON in 1993.
"Rodney was at his best when he was fighting for the causes he believed in, and our movement has lost one of the greatest campaigners and orators of his generation," Prentis added. "Thanks to his work the lives of countless people have been changed for the better. Rodney was the very best of us. We will all miss him greatly."