Rodney Bickerstaffe, former General Secretary of UNISON and NUPE has died

Clare Williams, Northern Regional Secretary of UNISON said today:

“Rodney was a trade union leader who spent his life campaigning tirelessly to better the working lives of everyone. He was a champion of the low paid and fought for the introduction of the National Minimum Wage against a campaign of fear by the Government and Big Business. Rodney led many disputes standing shoulder to shoulder with members in their daily struggles to improve their working lives in both the North East and beyond.

As General Secretary of UNISON, he fought to ensure that the low paid and women were able to have a greater say in the union. He championed measures to support women to become more active and take on leadership roles, in line with the values of equality and diversity, which are at the heart of UNISON.

Rodney was an inspiration to everyone who worked with him and will be remembered for standing up for the most vulnerable in our society.”

Phil Lenton, former Divisional Officer of the Northern Division of the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE), one of UNISON’s predecessor unions said:

“I first met Rodney Bickerstaffe in 1971 when we were both Area Officers of NUPE. He became Northern Divisional Officer in 1975 living in Whitley Bay.

He was committed to NUPE’s low paid workers and was always an advocate of the National Minimum Wage. He was appointed NUPE National Officer and then in 1982 he became NUPE General Secretary, becoming President of the TUC in 1992 and General Secretary of UNISON in 1996.

He was a fighter for social justice, whether it was fighting for the rights of the Travelling Community, the low paid or pensioners in Britain, or assisting trade unions fighting apartheid in South Africa (he became a lifelong friend of Nelson Mandela), combating the effects of globalisation through the NGOs Solidar and War on Want, or fighting for the rights of Palestinians. He was also instrumental in changing the attitude of the TUC towards Cuba.

He was hugely popular inside NUPE and UNISON, as well as outside in the wider labour movement and will be sorely missed.”

A private family funeral will be held for Rodney, and his family have requested no flowers but for any donations to be made to either Marie Curie or the International Brigade Memorial Trust.

Please send any cards or letters to Jasmin Johnson, UNISON Centre, 130 Euston Rd, Kings Cross, London NW1 2AY (

UNISON will organise a memorial event for Rodney at which we can celebrate his life, humour and comradeship.