Brenda Dean

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The Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde 2017.jpg
Personal details
Born(1943-04-29)29 April 1943
Salford, England, UK
Died13 March 2018(2018-03-13) (aged 74)
Nottingham, England, UK
Political partyLabour
Spouse(s)Keith McDowall CBE[1]
Trade unionist

Brenda Dean, Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, PC, FRSA (29 April 1943 – 13 March 2018)[2][3] was a British trade unionist and Labour Party politician.[4] As general secretary of SOGAT from 1985 until 1991, she was "the first woman elected to head a major industrial trade union."[5]

Early life[edit]

She was born in Salford; her father was a railway signalman and her mother worked in a carpet factory. As a child the family moved to Eccles, and she attended Stretford High School for Girls.[5]

Trade union career[edit]

She began her career as a trade unionist as a teenager,[4] initially as a member of the National Union of Printing, Bookbinding and Paper Workers. In 1972 she became assistant secretary of the Manchester branch of the print union SOGAT (Society of Graphical and Allied Trades), and became involved in negotiations over the introduction of new technology to the printing industry. Rising through the union hierarchy, she became President of SOGAT in 1983, and was elected as its General Secretary in 1985, becoming "the first woman elected to lead a major industrial union".[5][1]

She recognised the threats to her members' jobs of impending changes in the print industry, and, it later became clear, held private meetings with Rupert Murdoch in secret to discuss his plans. During the Wapping dispute of 1986/87, she "became one of the best-known trade union leaders in Britain."[5] However, in her attempts to resolve the strike, "she was bitterly denounced by some people in the militant Fleet Street chapels (union branches) as a “Judas”, she was derided as “a film star” because of her blond good looks and her leadership was decried when she put the survival of the union, with 90% of its members in the provinces, ahead of what was essentially a London dispute."[5]

In 1991, SOGAT became part of the Graphical, Paper and Media Union. Dean stood for the general secretaryship, but was narrowly defeated by Tony Dubbins, by 78,654 votes to 72,657. Instead, she became the union's deputy general secretary, serving for a single year before resigning.[6]

Member of the House of Lords[edit]

Dean was raised to the peerage in October 1993 as Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, of Eccles in the County of Greater Manchester[7][8] and was appointed to the Privy Council in 1998.[2]

She was a member of the Labour opposition front bench in the House of Lords from 1994 until 1997,[5] and a member of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education that published an influential report in 1997.[9] She chaired the armed forces pay review body (1999-2004), the Covent Garden market authority (2005–13) and the Housing Corporation, now Homes England, (1997-2003); and was a member of the Royal Commission on House of Lords Reform in 1999.[5]

Other activities[edit]

She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1992.

Her autobiography, Hot Mettle, deals largely with her tenure as SOGAT General Secretary at the time of Rupert Murdoch's battles with her own and other trades unions, notably the Wapping dispute. She was a Vice-President of the Debating Group.[10]

She was interviewed by National Life Stories in 2007–8 for the 'Oral History of the British Press' collection held by the British Library.[11]

She became a director for Labour Tomorrow on 28 June 2016,[12] an organisation that funds groups that oppose Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.[13][14]

Personal life[edit]

From 1977, her partner was Keith McDowall, later deputy director general of the Confederation of British Industry; they married in 1988.[5]

Brenda Dean died on 13 March 2018, aged 74.[5]


  1. ^ a b Darryl Lundy (1 April 2009). "Profile at". The Retrieved 21 February 2011.
  2. ^ a b "Privy Counsellors: 1969-present". Leigh Rayment's Peerage Pages. 2 February 2011. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
  3. ^ "Tweet by LabourLordsUK". Twitter. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  4. ^ a b "The Rt Hon Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, PC". People. Debrett's. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Julia Langdon (18 March 2018). "Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  6. ^ Peter Bain and John Gennard, A History of the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades, p.177
  7. ^ "No. 53459". The London Gazette. 18 October 1993. p. 16703.
  8. ^ "No. 23461". The Edinburgh Gazette. 15 October 1993. p. 3189.
  9. ^ "Higher Education in the learning society: Main Report". Education England. Retrieved 10 February 2015.
  10. ^ Debating Group Archived 2015-04-05 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed 21 May 2015.
  11. ^ National Life Stories, 'Dean, Brenda (1 of 11) National Life Stories Collection: 'Oral History of the British Press', The British Library Board, 2007-8. Retrieved 7 October 2017
  12. ^ "LABOUR TOMORROW LIMITED - Officers (free information from Companies House)". Retrieved 2016-08-12.
  13. ^ "Anti-Corbyn Group Amasses £250,000 Fighting Fund". Sky News. 16 August 2016. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  14. ^ Rajeev Syal (21 September 2016). "New anti-Corbyn group is funded by former Tony Blair spin doctor". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 September 2016.

External links[edit]

Trade union offices
Preceded by
Bill Keys and Owen O'Brien
General Secretary of SOGAT
Succeeded by
Position abolished
Preceded by
New position
Deputy General Secretary of the Graphical, Paper and Media Union
1991 – 1992
Succeeded by
Gerry Sutcliffe