Sidney Weighell

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Sidney Weighell (31 March 1922 – 13 February 2002) (pronounce surname as "weal") was a British footballer, trade unionist and the General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen from 1975 to 1983.

Early life[edit]

He was born at 25 Gladstone Street Northallerton, Yorkshire in 1922 into a "Railway Family" (his father, Tom Weighell was a Signalman, his grandfather Bill was a guard and his brother Maurice was a driver).[1] He was educated at a Church of England school, which he left at 15 and became an apprentice mechanic.

Railway work[edit]

In 1938 he took an apprenticeship at the road motor engineering department of the London and North Eastern Railway company. He became active in the NUR immediately upon starting work for the Railways, believing in 'one union for all railway staff'. This brought him into conflict with the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF); Weighell was a so-called 'footplate grade', traditionally represented by ASLEF, not the NUR.[1] Weighell considered craft unions (unions catering to a particular job within an industry rather than to the industry itself) as outmoded and elitist, and apparently said so on many occasions at the Northallerton Railwaymen's club.[1]

In January 1940 he joined the locomotive department as a fireman, becoming a qualified engine driver in 1943. He left the railways in 1945 to become a professional footballer, but returned in 1947. In 1954 he was made a full-time divisional officer for the NUR, and moved to their headquarters in London. In 1965 he was elected Assistant General Secretary of the NUR, and his maiden speech at the Labour Party conference in 1966 was heavily critical of Frank Cousins' policies on income and pay restraint, further cementing his reputation as a "disruptive influence".[2]

In 1969 he was named as Senior AGS, becoming Sidney Greene's deputy when the need arose, and when Greene chose to retire in 1975 Weighell won the leadership election, with more votes than all three of his opponents put together, a rare occurrence in the NUR.[1]

Following rumours of a massive cut in rail services he threatened to stop NUR-sponsored MPs from backing any kind of bill.[3] He spoke at the 1976 Labour Party Conference, along with Johnny Johnson and Ray Buckton, talking about the deep disappointment following the party's desertion of its election manifesto.[3]

During the 1960s he waged a campaign against the conversion of the railway engines to diesel fuel, arguing that the best conversion in the long-term would be to electrical power. He failed to convince either the National Executive or Harold Wilson, but made more progress in the 1970s with his new leverage as General Secretary, attacking Anthony Crosland's White Paper on transport integration. A stroke of luck saw Crosland moved to the foreign office in 1976 and replaced by William Rodgers, who was more receptive to comments from the NUR. The result was the Transport Act 1978, which Weighell saw as a victory.[1]

Politics[edit]

In 1945 he joined the Labour Party, becoming a member of the local trades council, and was elected to the National Executive Committee in 1953. He was initially regarded as a disruptive influence, and fired from the trades council for introducing politics into the proceedings.

Downfall[edit]

At the Labour Party conference in 1982, the NUR delegation decided to vote for the National Union of Mineworkers, led by Arthur Scargill. Weighell, however, secretly voted for the EETPU, a fact quickly discovered by conference officials.

Branded a cheat, Weighell was forced to offer his resignation, which a union conference convened in Birmingham accepted 41–36. Despite the scandal he maintained he had done the right thing, saying "I'm glad to have been a casualty if it means that the party executive does not fall into the hands of militants."[4]

Later life[edit]

After resigning in 1983 he moved back to Yorkshire and joined the British Airports' Authority board, as well as acting as a consultant to Tyne Tees Television. In 1983 he wrote an autobiography titled On the Rails which was extremely scathing to both the successive and earlier General Secretaries.

Personal life[edit]

On 1 September 1949 Weighell married Margaret Hunter, with whom he had one son and one daughter, Jennifer and Anthony. In 1956 Margaret and Jennifer were both killed when the family were involved in a car crash. Sidney himself spent several months in hospital, but returned to work after he had recovered. He married a second time on 21 November 1959 to Joan Willetts, a market research interviewer, but no children resulted.[1]

Football[edit]

Weighell was a skilled footballer, and always attributed his failure of the 11-plus exams to his preference to play football rather than study. He was offered trials for Sunderland, Newcastle United and Sheffield United, and signed for Sunderland on 12 October 1945 for a fee of £10 and played for 2 seasons as an inside-left on the second team, claiming that he was the best inside-left in the north east "except for a certain gentleman by the name of Raich Carter".[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f "Oxford DNB article:Weighell, Sidney". Retrieved 2008-10-18. 
  2. ^ Pattinson, Terry (15 February 2002). "Sidney Weighell — Obituaries". The Independent. Retrieved 2008-07-29. 
  3. ^ a b "Chapter Twenty-Eight- Single or Return, the official history of the TSSA". Retrieved 2008-10-18. 
  4. ^ "Sid Weighell". The Daily Telegraph. 15 February 2002. Retrieved 2008-07-29. 
  5. ^ Harper, Keith (15 February 2002). "Obituary: Sid Weighell". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-07-29. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Sidney Greene
General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen
1975-83
Succeeded by
Jimmy Knapp