Rodney Bickerstaffe

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Rodney Bickerstaffe
RodneyBickerstaffe - taken on Sunday 25 January 2015 in Russell Square, London.jpg
Bickerstaffe at Russell Square, London, in 2015
2nd President of the National Pensioners Convention
In office
Preceded byJack Jones
Succeeded byFrank Cooper
2nd General Secretary of UNISON
In office
Preceded byAlan Jinkinson
Succeeded byDave Prentis
General Secretary of the National Union of Public Employees
In office
Preceded byAlan Fisher
Succeeded byorganisation abolished
President of the Trades Union Congress
In office
General SecretaryNorman Willis
Preceded byAlec Smith
Succeeded byAlan Tuffin
Personal details
Born(1945-04-06)6 April 1945
Hammersmith, London, England
Died3 October 2017(2017-10-03) (aged 72)
Alma materRutherford College of Technology
OccupationTrade unionist

Rodney Kevan Bickerstaffe (6 April 1945 – 3 October 2017) was a British trade unionist. He was General Secretary of the National Union of Public Employees (1982–1993) and UNISON (1996–2001), Britain's largest trade union at the time. He later became president of the UK National Pensioners Convention (2001–2005).

Early life and education[edit]

Born on 6 April 1945 in Hammersmith, London,[1] his mother was unmarried when he was born. The two lived for three years 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.[citation needed]


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. He was elected general secretary in November 1995, taking office on 28 February 1996.

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 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 chaired the Global Network which works with organisations in Asia, Africa and Latin America and was President of War on Want. He also chaired the Ken Gill Memorial Fund, a non-charitable trust established to commemorate his late friend, the British trade unionist and internationalist Ken Gill.

He was involved in fighting discrimination of all kinds and was a patron of the Dalit Solidarity Network, an organisation in London (UK) for opposition to the oppression of India’s caste system.[2]

Bickerstaffe had 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 died on 3 October 2017, aged 72.[3]


  1. ^ Routledge, Paul (16 December 1998). "Bickerstaffe hunts for a father and uncovers a family". The Independent. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  2. ^ Caste discrimination law would be a fitting tribute to Rodney Bickerstaffe
  3. ^ "UNISON pays tribute to former general secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe - News, Press release - News - UNISON National". 3 October 2017. Retrieved 4 October 2017.

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