The gravestone of Vincent Flynn in Edinburgh reads "Born 1909. Died 1991. A trade unionist and socialist. A good man who loved human rights."
Flynn was general secretary of the SOGAT print union from 1970 to 1974 and held other senior positions in the union before that. He was a Glaswegian with an Irish background.
Vincent was one of the many, many Scots who became leaders of British-wide unions in the post-war period.
Flynn was educated at the school of hard knocks and then the university of life.
This included experiencing hardship, brutality and serious illness himself as well as seeing the experience of these in others. He was sacked after the 1926 General Strike.
He showed early promise as a leader. He became an office-holder in the Independent Labour Party in Glasgow while in his teens, as well as the representative of his fellow apprentices at the Collin's book bindery.
Unlike many of his fellow Scots he was not a member of the Communist Party at any point.
But he was a left-wing socialist until his death, incurring the wrath of the TUC leadership along the way and cutting out corruption in his own union.
He was a well-read and cultured man. In the 1930s he was involved in setting up a workers' theatre group and would often drop literary references into his way of speaking.
From all of this he developed the traits of determination, steadfast morality, compassion and passion. He believed in reason, kindness, equality, justice and freedom. And he could prosecute these pursuits because he was a forceful and persuasive character.
The relevance of all this is that Flynn developed a pronounced ability to both lead and follow his union members.
He could reflect the opinion of members as well as shape it.
Critically, he showed the ability to work out the how, when and where of the best ways of doing this in pursuit of advancing and defending their interests. The basis of this was personal self-confidence, self-belief and self-worth.
His proudest moment was not just successfully representing the interests of his own members but those of his class when SOGAT was able to play a key part in defeating the Industrial Relations Act 1971 and freeing the Pentonville Five dockers who were jailed for breaking the Act.
Such a set of skills as a union leader can be broken down into seven core areas. The first is the ability to develop a national agenda for a union.
The second is the ability to organise internally within the union - through caucusing and networking - to win the union to this agenda.
The third is the ability to negotiate, most obviously with employers but also with other unions and the government.
Next are the skills to communicate in the forums of mass meetings, committees and one-to-ones, to inspire and motivate members as well as to manage the personnel and finances of the organisation.
Finally, there is ability to know how far to push in a dispute as well as to know when to settle.
Other than the schooling that the Communist Party gave in conjunction with the Labour left, the trade union movement has not until recently sought to formally train and develop its leaders. Back in the day, these skills were learnt on the job and on the way up the organisational ladder.
There is no question that many of the required skills cannot solely be taught and learnt in the classroom.
But there are many that can, especially those concerning the methods of analysis, problem-solving and presentation. Public speaking and debating skills can also be taught. Yet even here, they must be honed and practised in the actual situations they are required for.
While areas like south Wales and Merseyside have made equally significant contributions to the senior personnel of the trade union movement on a Britain-wide scale, the movement does not have a well developed understanding of why it is that the social conditions that predominate in certain parts like Scotland lead to disproportionate contributions.
It's about more than the industrial composition of these different parts of Britain and about more than the dominant political traditions of these areas. Rather, it is the combination of the social and political conditions and the emergence of these particular individual leaders like Vincent Flynn that makes the total greater than the sum of the parts.
We need to study and reflect on these issues if we are to have a strong set of future leaders for our movement. This would be the best legacy to leave Flynn and others.
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