Presidents at STUC Congress face the unnerving prospect of having public tribute paid to them by a colleague who has known them for years - often someone who was also there when the bodies were buried.
So when Scottish secretary of Unison Mike Kirby was chairing the 115th Congress at Inverness he will not have been surprised to hear longtime comrade John Stevenson of Edinburgh council Unison branch raise laughter with a joke about his supposed nickname, the Prince of Darkness.
The reputation as a union mover and fixer is of course taken as a compliment. He is a man who gets things done.
Kirby is confident that the STUC's organising and campaigning approach can lead public debate about the referendum on Scotland's future within or outside of Britain - which is planned by the SNP government for autumn 2014. "This is far too big an issue to leave to politicians and their parties," he said.
Congress agreed to "organise, agitate and educate around a distinctive Scottish labour and socialist movement agenda" in its major debate on the constitutional issue.
"We need to look at the current powers of the Scottish Parliament and how we can best exploit them, because I don't think we have done that to the fullest, and then look to what additional powers might be needed.
"We will be asking questions of the political parties. Until now they have really been reacting to each other. As John Brown of CWU said during the Congress, 'the debate so far has been sterile and puerile'."
Congress was addressed by the Church of Scotland Moderator and the head of the Children First charity. But for Kirby it is also vital that the campaigning trade union links with civic society are increasingly bottom-up rather than top-down.
"We've got back to organising amongst the workforce in industries and services across Scotland, but what we're also seeing now is engagement with local communities throughout Scotland. And unions can learn from community engagement as well as contribute to it.
"New life has been breathed into many trades union councils, which are leading activity with tenants' associations, the pensioners' movement and service users and carers in community campaigns, like the defence of the Accord centre in Glasgow. We're really seeing common cause in challenging the austerity measures we all face."
As news broke confirming a double-dip recession, delegates responded with resolutions around the STUC anti-austerity theme, There is a Better Way - to campaign for jobs, public services and decent pay.
Support was pledged for unions negotiating, campaigning and taking industrial action over pensions, and the STUC reaffirmed its commitment to six principles of the People's Charter.
For Kirby, these strands are intertwined.
"The pensions justice campaign - especially the massive day of action on November 30 - drew large numbers of people into increased activity. It was a major industrial dispute but was also a proxy for people's anger and concern at what was happening at work and in their communities.
"The pensions issue is still very much alive, though in some sectors members are considering their views on revised proposals. But anger and concern may well also turn to other areas such as pay. If a year-one pension increase of 2.5 per cent for a large number of workers hits alongside a real terms pay cut of 2.5 per cent, the anger that we've seen will grow.
"People are concerned about jobs and employability. The unemployment rate for women is now higher than men. Youth unemployment is running at 103,000.
"At the same time the commitment to the public service ethos in Scotland which we have sustained throughout the lifetime of the Parliament is coming under pressure because of the austerity measures - and some of the traditional models for delivering public services are being challenged."
Kirby sees the local authority elections on May 3 as an opportunity for people to challenge the political parties on these issues.
"And the challenge for the parties is to give the people something to vote for. We've told councillors that they should be champions of local communities, not simply administrators of budget pressures passed on to you."
Congress celebrated significant trade union led victories against privatisation in Edinburgh and Aberdeen councils in recent months. Kirby notes these as high points of his presidential year. "We were able to mobilise trade unions and local communities to ask big questions of the councils," he said, but he warns against complacency.
"Some of these things may come back, depending on the political composition of councils that we get. Proportional representation in the last council elections threw up a gallimaufry - there's a good Scottish word - a myriad of various coalitions in control of the 32 councils which had little or no political rationale."
The STUC launched a new campaign for 50-50 representation in all elections, echoing its demand in the historic campaign for the Scottish Parliament.
"It was really disppointing to see in the local authority elecion lists the proportion of women candidate was only around 23 per cent, so the STUC will challenge political parties to better reflect their communities," Kirby says, noting the "welcome news that for the first time women make up more than 50 per cent of representation on our own general council."
He also welcomed the commitment from Alex Salmond in his address to Congress for a Women's Employment Summit but warned: "The Scottish government still does not grasp the issues around gender and occupational segregation, especially at managerial, technical and supervisory levels in many industries and services."
Kirby praised the STUC's campaigning initiatives on homophobic bullying.
"This was a small debate in terms of the space and time it had on the agenda, but it's a fundamental issue. We heard moving examples of young suicides, the tragic impact. All occupational groups - not just in teaching but in youth work, in health - where people come into contact with younger people, that's where this issue was raised."
A groundbreaking motion and General Council statement on Europe criticised the neoliberal agenda of the EU, with key threats from the 2012 Stability Treaty and the recent Monti II regulations codifying anti-union judgements such as Laval in national law, and called for the movement to explore alternative models of international economic co-operation.
Does this mean the STUC is now firmly opposed to the EU?
"We're part of Europe," Kirby affirms. "But the part of Europe that was attractive to trade unions - the Social Europe agenda - has been parked long ago. Many of the positives in employment rights emanating from that framework were constructive, but they are now coming under severe challenge.
Which shows us that the EU is for business and industry - but does not present a defence of social and employment conditions.
"What we set out is the organising, campaigning and bargaining agenda that we need to defend and enhance employment rights - and, yes - we know we need we need to look to different places to secure that.
"And we can certainly learn from some parts of the European trade union movement about their capability to mobilise working people in industrial action against the austerity measures."
Kirby is proud that the STUC has continued to accept its political responsibility to the Palestinian people.
"We will reinvigorate the campaign for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions which we initiated in 2009. This needs to be a bit more targeted if it is to be successful.
"We will also focus on the activities of the Jewish National Fund, especially its role in land expropriation and colonisation - and take political measures to challege its so-called charitable status.
"And we will establish a Scottish Trade Union Palestine Support Group to provide concrete assistance. The Fire Brigades Union in Scotland gave a practical example by successfully delivering safety equipment and even an old fire engine from Dundee for their colleagues in Nablus. They're now working on getting five tractors over there."
Kirby remains upbeat after his busy presidential year.
"I think Congress showed us in good fettle. We acknowledge the challenges and the pressures on our members. But the organising agenda we've set for ourselves will help in addressing the austerity programme we face."
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