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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 January, 2004, 11:23 GMT
Profile: Sir Bill Morris
Bill Morris
The veteran union boss has been a champion for good race relations

As Sir Bill Morris begins his inquiry into racism within the Met Police, BBC News Online takes a look at his career.

With a decade at the helm of one of the country's most influential trade unions, Sir Bill Morris has been one of the most high profile black members of the Labour movement.

In 1991 he was elected general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union - becoming the first black person in Britain to lead a union.

As such he has always been an inspirational figure to black and white members of the community alike.

When he was knighted in last year's Queen's birthday honours list, the veteran left-winger said: "I hope that in this recognition, today's young black Britons will find some inspiration.

"I have always held the view that race can be an inspiration, not a barrier."

In typically modest fashion, he added that the reward was not so much about him as it was about the causes he has championed.

Education

Since making way for Tony Woodley at the T&G, Sir Bill has remained an influential voice in the Labour movement - and not just behind the scenes.

He now devotes much of his time in retirement to championing the cause of education, not least in his role as chancellor of Jamaica's University of Technology.

He is also on the board of governors at London's South Bank University, a Trustee for the Open University Foundation and a member of the Courts of Northampton and Luton Universities.

In an interview with BBC News Online in 2002, he said he also wanted to devote a lot more time to his family - particularly his grandchildren.

An ally of Chancellor Gordon Brown, his sometimes critical approach to the government's record is likely to be looked back on with a good deal of nostalgia as a new breed of left-wing union leaders emerges.

Born in Jamaica in 1938, Sir Bill, who now lives in Hertfordshire, lived in a small village until his family emigrated to the UK in 1954 after the death of his father, a part-time policeman.

His mother came first, settling in Hansworth, where she had relatives.

Rise to the top

Three months later a 16-year-old Bill Morris followed her.

He got his first job with a local car parts manufacturer, Hardy Spicer, and within a few years had shown his potential for representing workers' concerns.

The young worker was nominated by his colleagues to meet managers, to challenge them over the need for the workers to be given protective gloves.

He won that battle, and the experience set him on the path to representing some 900,000 workers in the T&G.

He was still in his 20s when he began his formal rise through the ranks. Elected a shop steward in 1962, he became a full-time officer 10 years later, and moved steadily through the ranks until the 1991 leadership election.

His 12-year leadership saw several high-profile battles, including the fight for power in the Labour Party over the union block vote and one member one vote.

In more recent years, he has launched blistering attacks on the Blair government over employment rights, accusing ministers of "sitting on their hands".

His outspoken stance on private sector involvement in public services and claims that Labour's asylum policy panders to racists have put him in direct opposition to the party leadership.


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