Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Farewell Bill McCarthy


With the sad death earlier this year of Bill Wedderburn, and now the passing away on Sunday of Bill McCarthy, the UK has lost arguably two of its most impressive, outstanding experts on labour law, industrial relations and the of the role of trade unions within these.

Despite the almost luminary position that Bill McCarthy came to occupy as an industrial relations academic, and also principal adviser to successive Labour governments – his input well established historically in those seismic shifts in UK trade unionism, the Donovan Commission report of 1968 and the flawed policy of Barbara Castle, In Place of Strife – his roots were much more common to those of us in the trade union movement.

Bill came to Ruskin College in 1953 supported by his union USDAW. He met his wife, Margaret Godfrey whilst at Ruskin and they went to become stalwart activists in the Oxford Labour Party.
Whilst Bill went on from Ruskin to pursue a career which dominated the industrial relations landscape of the 1960’s-80s’ he never came to conveniently ignore (as many others did) his trade union origins.

As a student at Ruskin in the 1980s Bill’s book, the magisterial Trade Unions, was seen as of such fundamental importance to building the knowledge base of new students that it was set as mandatory reading before we even set foot across the threshold. His written and advisory output over 40 years in academia and government circles was prolific but within this he retained his deep, abiding interest of what it was that could retain at a grandscale union strength and influence in collective bargaining and industrial relations machinery; but absorbed also by the minutia of the union rule book.

There is a wonderful obituary to Bill McCarthy in today’s Guardian, supplemented by a personal reflection from Geoffrey Goodman.
Taken together the coverage represents a fine critical analysis of the role of an individual during a period of fluctuating fortune for British trade unions; but one in which without the imprint of Bill McCarthy our current position as trade unionists in the UK could not have  been the same.
The Guardian obituaries are here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/nov/19/lord-mccarthy

As a mark of respect for Bill's work in support of British trade unions he became one of only two honorary fellows of Ruskin College, and at the next meetings of the College's Governing Executive and Governing Council, there will be a minute's silence.

In Solidarity

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