We talked of unions, Tony Benn and campaigns around the world – Corbyn tribute to Rodney Bickerstaffe

3rd October, 2017 2:11 pm

This is the full tribute published by Jeremy Corbyn following the death of former Unison and NUPE general secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe.

Words do not come easily after the awful news of Rodney’s death. He was a warm, decent and principled man, an outstanding trade unionist and socialist, and a great friend and support to me over many years.

We worked together in NUPE when I became an area officer for the union in 1974. As national officer for Health in the 1982 pay dispute, he was such a huge help to our members.

He played a huge role in the labour movement; as a leader of low paid workers, as founding general secretary of Unison and as a tireless champion of the minimum wage.

Rodney always provided guidance to me as an MP and was a loud and important voice in all debates within the party. He stood steadfast for Labour principles; I will never forget his speech to the Clause 4 special conference in 1995.

After retiring as Unison’s general secretary, he became even more active in War on Want, Dalit solidarity campaigns, pensioners’ justice, Travellers’ Rights and the anti-austerity movement.

Rodney was always global in his views and perspectives, a real internationalist.

Among so many memories of Rodney from the events and conferences we both attended, perhaps my most cherished is the opening of World Social Forum in Mumbai in 2004. It was a huge event, held in the evening under floodlights and as I was leaving the stage, that familiar voice called out to me to express his genuine joy that such an enormous range of campaigns from all of the world had been brought together in one place.

I last saw Rodney just before Labour Party conference and was deeply moved by the love for him shown by all the staff, from all over the world, at University College Hospital. Despite his pain and sadness at his condition, he was full of optimism and hope. We talked of NUPE days, our friend Tony Benn and health campaigns around the world. At the end of our lovely chat he told me, in mock commander tones, to go home and said how pleased he was at the success of our party and wished us well for Conference.

Thank you Rodney for being a pal, a leader and a very decent human being.

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