Rodney shocked many colleagues and friends when announcing his intention to retire from the General Secretaryship at the end of 2000. However, it wasn’t so much retirement as a refocussing of his activities both nationally and internationally.
At home his old friend Jack Jones was retiring as President of the National Pensioners Convention and suggested to Rodney that he should take over.
His succession to Jack is recorded in the archive with a note from Rodney saying “Jack asked me to stand but said that Barbara Castle won’t like it then shortly after Barbara Castle asked me to stand saying I don’t think Jack Jones will like it.”
Jack was also Chair of the Advisory Board of the Modern Records Centre at Warwick University and, when he stood down, Rodney took over.
At international level he became President of the Solidar Global Network, campaigning to mitigate the damaging effects of globalisation and seeking to ensure that workers’ rights were seen as human rights. He led delegations to World Trade Organisation summits in Seattle, Doha, Cancun and Hong Kong.
Giampi Alhadeff was General Secretary of Solidar during Rodney’s Presidency. In an archive document he recalls that at the Cancun summit Rodney wanted the delegation to meet each morning at 7.30 am. “We complained that we wanted an early morning swim each day and he said, Okay, see you on the beach at 6.30 am.”
Many NUPE and UNISON officers will recognise ‘the call to breakfast meetings’.
His international work was not better appreciated than when Nelson Mandela recorded a video tribute to Rodney to be played at his retirement party.
He was active to the end and when he passed away on the 3rd October 2017 tributes poured in from campaigners in Peru, Egypt, Finland, Sweden, the Philippines and South Africa as well as from many admirers at home.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady spoke for the movement when she said “Not every union leader can say they were loved but Rodney was loved by everyone”.
Biography by Jim Sutherland