Rodney Bickerstaffe

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Rodney Bickerstaffe (born 6 April 1945) has been president of the UK National Pensioners Convention and was leader of Britain's second largest trade union, UNISON until 2001.

Early life and education[edit]

Bickerstaffe's mother was unmarried at a time when it was considered shameful to be a single mother. He lived for three years with his mother in east London in a home for unmarried mothers. He then moved to Doncaster among his extended family. He was educated at Doncaster Grammar School and in sociology at Rutherford College of Technology.


Bickerstaffe became an organiser for the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) in 1966 in Yorkshire, rising through the ranks to be divisional officer of the northern division. He then became national officer responsible for members working in local government, universities and the water industry and in 1981 was appointed NUPE general secretary. When NUPE, COHSE and NALGO merged to create UNISON in July 1993, Bickerstaffe became associate general secretary and was elected general secretary in November 1995.

Bickerstaffe was a popular and highly visible trade union leader, calling for better rights and fairer treatment for staff working in public services and those transferred to the private sector through national and local privatisations. Although he was not known for aggressive tactics, he was passionate in his campaigns against low pay and for the introduction of the statutory national minimum wage. At the 2000 Labour Party Conference he moved the successful though controversial resolution to ensure pensions are uprated at a fair level, in line with earnings or prices, whichever is higher.

At the 2004 Labour Party Conference, Tony Blair referred to Bickerstaffe during his keynote Leader's Speech, at which point he was heckled. "I thought, that's funny - no-one boos Rodney Bickerstaffe," Blair quipped, referring to Bickerstaffe's lovable reputation.


He retired from UNISON in 2001 and succeeded Jack Jones as president of the National Pensioners Convention in April 2001. The organisation champions the rights and voice of Britain's 11 million pensioners and campaigns for better pensions and healthcare. Bickerstaffe stood down in 2005 to focus on his international commitments and was succeeded by Frank Cooper. He chairs the Global Network which works with organisations in Asia, Africa and Latin America and is President of War on Want. He also chairs the Ken Gill Memorial Fund, a non-charitable trust established to commemorate his late friend, the British trade unionist and internationalist Ken Gill.

Bickerstaffe has honorary doctorates from Keele University, the University of Hertfordshire and Sheffield Hallam University as well as the Freedom of the Borough from Doncaster metropolitan borough. He is married with four children and nine grandchildren.

External links[edit]

Trade union offices
Preceded by
Alan Fisher
General Secretary of the National Union of Public Employees
Succeeded by
Position abolished
Preceded by
Alec Smith
President of the Trades Union Congress
Succeeded by
Alan Tuffin
Preceded by
Alan Jinkinson
General Secretary of UNISON
Succeeded by
Dave Prentis
Preceded by
Jack Jones
President of the National Pensioners Convention
Succeeded by
Frank Cooper