Page last updated at 06:57 GMT, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 07:57 UK

Obituary: Jack Jones

A look back at the life of Jack Jones

Jack Jones, the former leader of the Transport and General Workers' Union and veteran of the Spanish Civil War, has died at the age of 96.

Born James Larkin Jones, the son of a Liverpool docker, he worked in the docks himself for some years.

He was politically-minded from an early age and a Labour Party ward secretary at 15. At 23, he was the youngest member of Liverpool City Council.

He fought with the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War and was wounded.

Jones began his full-time union career in 1939 as a district organiser for the Transport and General Workers' Union and during almost a quarter century in the Midlands did much to improve the wages and conditions of car workers and their bargaining methods.

The Union took him to London in 1963 in a new post of assistant executive secretary: the General Secretary then was Frank Cousins, whose policies suited Jones's left-wing convictions.

He succeeded Cousins in 1969, when he was 55. At about the same time, he joined the TUC General Council and later chaired its International Committee.

Jack Jones as a young man
He was the youngest member of Liverpool City Council

He was influential in ending two crippling national dock strikes in the early 1970s, though some militant extremists in his union reacted violently against the second settlement.

They burst into a room at Transport House where Jones was giving a news conference and manhandled him.

Jack Jones's influence in trade union and Labour Party affairs grew steadily and he strove for unity between the union and intellectual wings of the movement at a time when their relations were cool.

He made great efforts to ensure that the TUC stood shoulder to shoulder with Harold Wilson in his successful bid to recapture power in the first 1974 election and his return in the second.

Powerful man

Jones, above all others, was responsible for shaping and producing the so-called "social contract" between the new Labour government and the TUC and in fighting it through Congress, despite threatened opposition from the other giant union, Hugh Scanlon's AUEW.

He went on in, 1975 and 1976, to give powerful, even decisive support to the government's anti-inflation policies, including the £6-a-week pay limit and the even tighter limit that succeeded it.

At his desk at the TGWU
He was a powerful man as head of the TGWU

It was during this period that he began to be widely referred to as wielding more power than any other man outside the government.

Jack Jones dominated the Transport Union as Ernest Bevin, Arthur Deakin and Frank Cousins had done before him.

He was a quietly spoken and articulate man, who enjoyed vigorous, though not violent, contests with management.

His opponents respected his quick mind and persuasive logic and knew that he could be both tough and flexible.

He was a passionate advocate of industrial democracy, believing that workers had the right to a greater say in all matters affecting their pay and livelihood.

Special award

When he retired in 1978, more than 2,500 guests attended his farewell party at the Festival Hall in London.

He turned down the offer of a peerage, but accepted the title of Companion of Honour, which he said he regarded as a tribute to the whole trade movement.

The Union gave him a £10,000 leaving present which left him shocked, embarrassed and annoyed. He gave it away to a pensioners' pressure group.

Campaigning for pensioners' rights with Rodney Bickerstaffe and Barbara Castle
Campaigning with Rodney Bickerstaffe and Barbara Castle

And after his retirement he channelled his energy into the campaign for winning better old-age pensions.

He kept an office in the T&G's headquarters, working five days a week there, on a voluntary basis, as president of both the union's retired members' association and the National Pensioners' Convention.

During his lifetime, he had roles with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), the Crown Agents, the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure, the Special Committee on the Ports, the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants, the Committee of Inquiry into Industrial Democracy, and Age Concern.

At the age of 87, he was back in the spotlight.

With the Blair administration under pressure on several fronts, Jack Jones took the opportunity to press the demand for a return to the link between pensions and the average earnings index.

At the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth in October, 2003, at the age of 90, he received a special award in recognition of his service to the movement.

He is survived by his two sons.

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