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  1. ITV Report

Union leader Rodney Bickerstaffe has died, aged 72

Dedicated champion: Rodney Bickerstaffe Credit: PA

The former union leader Rodney Bickerstaffe, who was brought up in Doncaster and started his union career in Yorkshire, has died at the age of 72.

Mr Bickerstaffe rose from being an organiser in the 1960s for the public sector union NUPE, which merged to become the present day Unison, to leading the union as general secretary.

Former prime minister Tony Blair called him a 'giant of the Labour and trade union movement, one of the most influential trade unionists of his time and of any time.'

The union's current general secretary, Dave Prentis, described him as a 'friend, a comrade and a leader'.

Where we had our disagreements, he was firm but always friendly and knew at a profound level the importance of having a Labour government. He had a great sense of humour, no pretensions despite his success and was wonderful company.

He should be remembered not only for his great service to his members, but for his contribution to Britain, not least the seminal role he played in bringing about the introduction of the national minimum wage.

– Former Prime Minister Tony Blair

Rodney, or Bick as he was known to many, was a great personal friend to many of us and a dedicated champion of all the union members he proudly represented throughout his career. He coupled a great sense of humour and love of laughter with a deep-rooted sense of social justice and commitment to Unison. Our thoughts are with Rodney's family, especially his wife Pat who was an ever present support to him in all his work and was the love of his life.

At the time of Rodney's death, it is worth reflecting on his response during the Winter of Discontent to the question 'what about the dignity of the dead?' Rodney replied 'what about the dignity of the living?' Rodney was at his best when he was fighting for the causes he believed in, and our movement has today lost one of the greatest campaigners and orators of his generation.

– Unison general secretary Dave Prentis