Thursday, 7 November 2013

RIP John 'Bill' Hughes


As an ex-Ruskin student and now proud member of staff I have an inveterate snobbery about the place and position of Ruskin College in the history and tradition of the British labour movement. The tired old phrase I often drag out (I will have to find a new one) is that it would be difficult to write a definitive history of either the British labour movement and/or trade union education without an inclusion of the role of Ruskin.

With the sad news of the death of former principal John 'Bill' Hughes on 1st November this history and tradition is exemplified in his personal story. Bill Hughes retired as Principal just as I was starting at Ruskin in 1989 and he made way for Stephen Yeo. Despite his retirement Bill's legacy loomed large still not least because of his role in contributing to trade union collective bargaining strategy via the establishment of the Trade Union Research Unit (TURU). His own personal contribution to the day-to-work of trade unions was impressive, as was his contribution to the work of Labour governments in devising and implementing policy on labour and economic matters.

Bill's daughter Katherine went on to work at Ruskin and has penned this short statement which appears on the College web site. I just felt it important to add a personal note of recognition to someone who played a vital role in building and maintaining Ruskin's reputation as a College of and for trade unionism.

John Hughes, former Principal of the College, died peacefully in Headington aged 86 on Friday November 1st 2013.

John’s funeral will be on Thursday 14th November at 1.45pm at St Andrew’s, Old Headington. The coffin will process from Rockery Cottage and people are welcome follow.

John joined the College staff in 1958, under Bill Hughes, as Tutor in Economic, Politics and Industrial Relations and as resident tutor at Ruskin Hall. Prior to that he had worked for the WEA and Sheffield and Hull Universities designing and teaching educational programmes for miners and steelworkers, many of whom became Ruskin students.

John became Vice-Principal in 1970 and in 1979, Principal. He retired in 1989 to continue his trade union work in other ways.

John's time at Ruskin spanned important times in the Labour Movement and left wing and civil rights politics. His contributions were manifold. In 1966 he established, with Roy Moore, Denis Gregory and Sue Hastings, the Trade Union Research Unit, which produced dozens of research papers, trade union pay claims and political arguments for all the major trade unions ranging from the NUM, TGWU, NUT, the National Union of Seamen and many more. In 1974 he and Roy Moore wrote for The Miners, A special Case (Penguin 1974) which played a key role in the Miners' Strike of that year. He wrote widely too about European Labour issues, often with Ken Coates.

He worked closely with trade union leaders at the Oxford car plants helping to improve pay and conditions there. Thereto he worked with Labour Ministers in the Wilson Government and sat on the Prices Commission.

John's other and related passion was Adult Education. He believed that everyone was intelligent and condemned all too often to a limited educational experience and dreary employment with inadequate pay and poor conditions. Ruskin's role should be to give the best possible educational experience to people who would use it to advance the conditions of their fellow men and women. He established the tutorial system at Ruskin and ensured that students had access to the key Labour Movement minds of the day.

John was an approachable and modest person with the common touch. He had no snobbery or desire for self-aggrandisement, turning down many Professorships to stay at his beloved College. He liked nothing better than to sit down with students or shop stewards and talk politics and tactics chat and argue with students in corridors, and join the contingents on demonstrations.

John's wife, Vi, became Literature tutor in 1961 retiring in 1982. His daughter, Katherine, was a Tutor from 1986-2007.

John was very much a family man and leaves daughers Katherine, Stella, Nicola and Kirsty, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Katherine Hughes 4th November 2013

In Memory & Solidarity


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