An A-Z of trade union leaders

A-Z of trade union leaders

Co-General Secretaries Derek Simpson and Roger Lyons

as the ‘Punch and Judy’ of the trade union movement, Simpson and Lyons are a
pair of unlikely bedfellows at the top of the UK’s second largest union – and
personify the widening gap between the left and right elements of the former
AEEU and MSF unions.

Simpson A former communist from Sheffield, Simpson, 57, stormed onto the scene
in the summer when – against all the odds – he whipped Blair’s key union ally,
Sir Ken Jackson, in a bitter leadership election.  A former engineer, Simpson clearly relishes his billing as
"Blair’s nemesis" and trumpeted his refusal to meet the PM at a union
dinner at the TUC Conference. This turned out to be pure bravado: Simpson did
turn up and even praised Blair’s speech, raising speculation that he has
"already sensed where the power is and wants to be aboard". Simpson
(who inherited Jackson’s £100,000 annual package) faces a steep learning curve.

Lyons Having originally declared that he would stand down as co-general
secretary of Amicus following the expected election of fellow Blairite,
Jackson, Lyons had an abrupt change of heart when Simpson was elected. By
exploiting a loophole, he announced he would continue representing the former
MSF. He has now been in place for 10 years unelected and is scheduled to remain
until 2007. Lyons’ salary package is alleged to be above the £300,000 mark.
Once considered too ‘unpredictable’ to be a Government player, is now seen as
the main hope of keeping Amicus on the straight and narrow.

Mick Rix

general secretary may only command a membership of some 16,000, but his
forthright hard-left stance has given him national prominence, along with his
close partnership with Bob Crow. A railway man since the age of 16, Rix –
another former alumni of Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party – has emerged
as an astute negotiator and analyst and has successfully played train operating
companies off against one another in an attempt to increase wages. Has warned
of further action unless drivers’ £35,000 salaries are improved, and is a
vociferous supporter of the renationalisation. "The public can see that we
are mortgaging our future to make the fat cats fatter." But Rix, 39, has
also campaigned strongly on behalf of workers’ rights and last year, was
appointed to the TUC General Council.

Billy Hayes

fully-fledged member of the ‘Awkward Squad’, Hayes, 49 – a former shop steward
from Liverpool – seized control of the CWU postal workers’ union in 2000 after
leading the campaign against a partnership deal agreed between his moderate
predecessor and Royal Mail managers. Seen as a firebrand, Hayes helped to spark
the strikes in Watford which spread across the country – and threatened mass
strikes over pay. But despite his close links with Bob Crow and chums, Hayes
averted strike action by agreeing a timely pay deal (he enjoys a £99,000
package) and the number of days lost to strikes since he became leader has
fallen dramatically. Hayes also scored points by ridiculing the very notion of
Consignia and won the campaign to drop this "silly name". The
seemingly inevitable drift into privatisation is likely to prove a step too far
for Hayes – and his notoriously militant members.

Andy Gilchrist

and reviled in equal measure since the start of the firefighters’ action,
Gilchrist was recently branded "criminally irresponsible" by local
government minister, Nick Raynsford. Yet for many, he is the acceptable face of
the new wave of radical unionism. A former Luton Town soccer trialist,
Gilchrist has demonstrated his fancy footwork with government and local
authority employers. "If we are the scars on Tony Blair’s back, so be
it," says the man who keeps a copy of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Iron in the Soul
in his office. But the real test will be whether he can wrench a substantially
improved pay deal for firefighters from an unwilling Government, before losing
public support.

John Edmonds

58, has emerged as one of the leading strategists of the trade union movement
and a key spokesman on economic and employment policies. The son of a London
shop steward, he won a history scholarship to Oxford. In 1965, he joined GMB’s
forerunner, the GMWU, as a research assistant and began leading the union in
1986. Has pushed for reform of the TUC. Dubbed by some "an
unreconstructed" left-winger, he described New Labour as "a marketing
device" that lacks principles and convictions. Played a central role in
the Government’s heavy defeat over PPP at the last Labour Party conference and
his forthcoming retirement will be viewed with relief in certain quarters.
Although the GMB recently took out newspaper ads, contrasting the £50,000
salary of the chairman of the Local Government Association, with the £5,000
earned by school cooks, Edmonds picks up £86,000.

Mark Serwotka

former Sheffield benefits agency worker, Serwotka, who describes his political
views as far left and is backed by the Trotskyite Socialist Alliance, came from
nowhere to win a postal ballot to lead the main civil service union in 2000 – a
move said to have left the PM ‘aghast’. Like many of the new-wave radical union
leaders, he succeeded because he was perceived as an outsider who promised to
represent staff at the sharp end of government policies, rather than engaging
in what he calls "cosy fireside chats" with ministers. Serwotka
believes it doesn’t matter which party is in power: both have to be treated as
employers. Unlike many of his peers, however, Serwotka has put his own money
where his mouth is. Considering the £60,000 salary he inherited from his
predecessor excessive, he asked for a pay cut. On being turned down by
officials anxious to protect their own differentials, he began donating £1,000
a month into the union’s main strike fund.

Bob Crow, RMT

bullet-headed union leader most frequently styled Public Enemy No. 1 has made
no secret of his willingness to take militant action. "Subtle negotiations
have never been part of his working methods," says a TUC document which
links Crow to 30 strikes in 10 years and warns that he dreams of a return to
the "class wars" of the 1970s. But Crow, who reportedly keeps a bust
of Lenin and Soviet railway pennants in his office (he was a communist for 14
years) is a Millwall supporter and a wholehearted subscriber to the fans’
chant: ‘No-one likes us. We don’t care’. No longer a member of Arthur
Scargill’s Socialist Alliance, he is politically agnostic, but at the heart of
the new nexus of leftwing union leaders. As quick-witted as he is contemptuous
of the political establishment, Crow, 41, was renowned for whipping up the
union behind strikes on South West Trains and Arriva long before he filled the
vacancy left by Jimmy Knapp’s death. Born to a family with a strong union
tradition, Crow has been an activist since he was a teenager and – as a young
London Underground representative for the National Union of Railwayment – saw
action in the 1984-5 miners’ strike (a service record held in some reverence by
younger followers).

Bill Morris

Morris was a prime mover in the campaign to establish a partnership approach
between unions and government and now appears to have become a fully-fledged member
of the establishment, with a £97,000 package to match. A member of the New Deal
Task Force, he has previously sat on the Prince of Wales’ Business Trust and
the Commission for Racial Equality and currently sits on the board of the Bank
of England. His relationship with the Chancellor is so close that it has been
described as "a joke" in union circles. But divisions between the
Brownite Morris and other Blairite union moderates – notably former AEEU leader
Sir Ken Jackson – have emerged over the euro, which Morris strongly opposes. A
supporter of modernisation in the public sector and PPP, he took particular
exception to Blair’s ‘wreckers’ speech last spring. "There are plenty of
wreckers," he says, "but they’re not in the union movement."

Dave Prentis

as ‘the elder statesman of the Awkward Squad’, Prentis, 53, overcame stomach
cancer to succeed Rodney Bickerstaffe as leader of Britain’s biggest union
after a lengthy career working for local government staff in Nalgo.

was told to go away and put my house in order," he says. "It was like
being hit by a sledgehammer." But after chemotherapy, a 12-hour operation,
and six months in hospital, he is "ready for the fray".

say this brand of understated determination is typical of the man. Quietly
spoken, with a masters degree in industrial relations from Warwick, he is
admired for his ability to deliver a logical argument "without

a member of the Labour Party, he claims never to have adopted "a New
Labour agenda". Downing Street special advisers have encouraged attempts
by Matthew Taylor, the Blairite head of the Institute for Public Policy
Research, to get close to Prentis. But attempts to influence a
conviction-driven leader, with a £10m fund at his disposal, are likely to fail.
A fervent critic of "creeping privatisation", he is not afraid to hit
the Government where it hurts. "Is she a wrecker?" asked a
Unison-funded ad depicting a home help assisting an elderly woman.    

Comments are closed.