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Monday, 13 August, 2001, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
Union leader Jimmy Knapp dies
Jimmy Knapp
Mr Knapp headed the biggest rail union
Prime Minister Tony Blair has led tributes to veteran trade union leader Jimmy Knapp who died on Monday after a year-long battle with cancer.

Mr Knapp, who was 60, was head of the RMT, the biggest rail union, and a ceaseless campaigner for workers' rights.

Behind the slow, deep voice there was an agile mind

John Monks

The prime minister said that the government had lost a "candid friend" and the union movement "an outstanding leader".

"I am deeply saddened to hear of Jimmy's death," Mr Blair said.

"My thoughts and sympathy are with his family."

'Man of integrity'

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, an RMT member, also had warm words for Mr Knapp.

"He was a man of great integrity, total courage and a straight-talker in a Scots accent."

Mr Knapp became general secretary of the National Union of Railworkers in 1983 which later became the Rail, Maritime and Transport union.

Vernon Hince the senior assistant general secretary of the RMT said: "Jimmy will be sadly missed by all members of our union and by the wider trade union and Labour movement."

TUC general secretary John Monks described Mr Knapp as "one of the outstanding trade union leaders of this generation".

"Behind the slow, deep voice there was an agile mind. He fought hard for the rail industry and his union during difficult times for both.

A 'good friend'

"We have lost a great trade unionist. And I have lost a good friend," he said.

Bill Morris, who heads the TGWU, said Mr Knapp was "the gentle giant of modern trade unionism" and much admired and respected at home and abroad.

He said: "Whilst the movement has lost one of its greatest advocates, many of us have lost a loyal and trusted friend.

Jimmy Knapp
Mr Knapp in action speaking to workers
"Our thoughts are with his wife Eva, and his family."

Mr Knapp was one of the last of the old-style union leaders who fought the Thatcher government when it was moving to limit their powers although he often worked behind the scenes to curb the efforts of some of his more militant union members.

Safety fears

But he was not afraid of calling his workers out to fight what he believed were threats to rail safety or unacceptable offers over pay and conditions.

In the 1990s it was rail privatisation that became a chief concern of Mr Knapp.

A one-time signalman, he was particularly saddened by the succession of rail disasters that happened in the wake of the break-up of British Rail.

And two long standing opponents of the part privatisation of transport networks, Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, and London mayor Ken Livingstone both highly praised Mr Knapp's contributions to public life.

There will be a celebration and requiem Mass for Mr Knapp in London next week, followed by a private burial ceremony in Kilmarnock.

The BBC's Greg Wood
"He was a passionate opponent of rail privatisation"
Bill Morris, Transport and General Workers Union
"He was extremely honest and very able"
See also:

13 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Jimmy Knapp: Old school, new ideas
01 Oct 98 | Labour Conference
Labour says no to rail re-nationalisation
13 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Jimmy Knapp: The life of union man
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