It is with a heavy heart that I write this. The world is a sadder place with the passing of the great Rodney Bickerstaffe. To most people he was a giant of the trade unions movement, without whom there would be no Minimum Wage. Without him, workers’ rights would not have been front and centre in this country.
But to us all here at the Dalit Solidarity Network UK, he was – along with his old friends Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP, leader of the Labour Party and Revd David Haslam MBE – a founding member of a unique organisation in the UK that fights for the rights of Dalits across the world. Their plight touched him profoundly and his fierce will to stand up for them against seemingly more powerful forces made them ever stronger and more determined. He was a champion of the most marginalised and always stood up for the rights of what are too often seen as lost causes.
I first met him 10 years ago – a relative newcomer in his life compared to all those who had known him for decades but I was allowed to be a part of his glow – to bask in his strengths and passions. It did not take me long to know that here was a special man – kind, funny, witty and with an ability to cut to the chase just when it was needed. He made everyone he met feel special. Every time we spoke, his opening was always “How are you my lovely? Have you changed the world yet? Don’t worry, you will!” He so often gave me the strength to continue to chip away at the brick wall that sometimes seems insurmountable. He recognised fools for what they were, but rarely let them know that – but he could bring you down with a look, a raised eyebrow and a choice barb.
He always looked out for me and made me laugh. He fought my corner whenever I asked him. Rodney was a true gentleman and I know it has been said in almost every tribute, but no-one ever had anything but wonderful things to say about him. And in true democratic fashion (being a real man of the people), he had no qualms in turning down both the Knighthood and Lordship. Not many others have so firmly stood by their principles.
And echoing David Haslam’s book title, and something that I know Rodney would remind us of: A LUTA CONTINUA…..
We have lost someone very special, but he will live in our hearts for a long time.
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