Rodney Bickerstaffe was a giant of the trade union movement. He was general secretary of National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) from 1981 and when NUPE, COHSE and NALGO merged to create UNISON in July 1993, he became associate general secretary and then  general secretary from 1995 to 2001.

Among his greatest achievements were winning the fight for a statutory minimum wage and the creation of UNISON. He was a popular and highly visible trade union leader, calling for better rights and fairer treatment for staff working in public services and those transferred to the private sector through national and local privatisations.  He was a formidable orator with an infectious sense of humour.

At the 2000 Labour Party Conference he moved the successful though controversial resolution to ensure pensions are uprated in line with earnings or prices, whichever is higher. 

“Profit-taking has no place in the areas we cover; in healthcare, housing, care of the elderly, the sick and the dying. If we do not speak up for them, who will?” Rodney Bickerstaffe

On his retirement in 2001, he succeeded Jack Jones as president of the National Pensioners Convention. He stood down in 2005 to focus on his international commitments. He was a founding Trustee of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and served in that capacity until 2012, when he became one of its patrons.

He chaired the Global Network which works with organisations in Asia, Africa and Latin America and was President of War on Want. He was a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and a past president of the Labour Campaign for Travellers’ Rights. He also chaired the Ken Gill Memorial Fund, a non-charitable trust established to commemorate his late friend, the British trade unionist and internationalist Ken Gill.

He was involved in fighting discrimination of all kinds and was a patron of the Dalit Solidarity Network, an organisation in London (UK) for opposition to the oppression of India’s caste system.

Rodney had honorary doctorates from Keele University, the University of Hertfordshire and Sheffield Hallam University as well as the Freedom of the Borough from Doncaster metropolitan borough. He died on 3 October 2017, aged 72.

NextThe Making of a Trade Unionist

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