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Labour Movement Paying tribute to an incorruptible giant of trade unionism

TODAY we celebrate Rodney Bickerstaffe and his contributions to the movement. Rodney, known as “Bick” to his friends and colleagues, was a champion of the movement whose dedication to the wellbeing of his members and beyond knew no bounds. 

He was an inspiration to everyone he worked with. He was incorruptible.  

Throughout his working life, beginning with NUPE and then Unison, his aim and determination, often with opposition, was to improve the lives of countless people. 

It often required great patience and dedication to see campaigns through no matter what obstacles were put in the way. 

There are many notable occasions that we could recall, but space is limited. One of immense importance and worth remembering always was his response during the “winter of discontent” to the question, “What about the dignity of the dead?”

Rodney replied: “What about the dignity of the living?” which sums up the principles that he held dear throughout his life and is a lesson to us all. 

Following the merger that created Unison he worked tirelessly to develop the growing and effective organisation it is today. 

His great sense of humour and shared laughter with colleagues and friends spurred him on to the great success he achieved, not to mention the encouragement this gave to many others. Rodney retired as general secretary of Unison in 2001.

He didn’t stop there. He succeeded Jack Jones as president of the National Pensioners Convention and, with his usual determination, he moved the successful resolution, albeit controversial, at the Labour Party conference of 2000 to ensure pensions are uprated in line with earnings or prices whichever is higher.  

He stood down in 2005 but did not stop there. He carried on working here and internationally with solidarity organisations and much more.

To sum up, by far Rodney’s greatest achievement following the development of Unison was securing the statutory national minimum wage, in spite of tremendous opposition. His principles, dedication and determination shone through in everything he did, says it all. 

Barbara Switzer is former deputy general secretary of Tass, now part of Unite, and longtime friend of Rodney Bickerstaffe.

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