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Tom Jenkins CBE

3 September 2012

Former general secretary Tom Jenkins is remembered by one of his successors in the role, Lord Rosser.

Tom Jenkins

Tom Jenkins, who has died aged 91, was general secretary of the TSSA for nearly five and a half years from May 1977 until his retirement at the end of August 1982.

Tom became general secretary in unusual circumstances. The previous general secretary, David Mackenzie, stood down at the beginning of 1977 due to ill health. Instead of appointing the senior assistant general secretary – Tom Jenkins – the Executive Committee made the then president, Tom Bradley MP the acting general secretary. This was to be an interim appointment pending a full election, but in the full knowledge that Tom Bradley MP was likely to be a candidate.

Tom Jenkins and Tom Bradley both contested what was, at times, a divisive election for general secretary. It split both the active membership and, to a degree, the paid staff. Tom Jenkins won by just under 7000 votes. He took office with an Executive Committee that was less than fully behind him and a new President, Walter Johnson MP, who would have preferred Tom Bradley to have won.

However, whilst some of the tensions inevitably remained, it was to the credit of all concerned that the new team, led by Tom Jenkins, recognised their overriding responsibilities to the membership, and worked together during what became an increasingly difficult time for both trade unions and the publicly owned transport industry.

Tom Jenkins was born in 1920 and joined the Great Western Railway Company in 1937 in the Docks Department at Swansea. He served in the army in the Second World War, and then resumed his employment at Swansea Docks before joining the full-time staff of the then Railway Clerks’ Association in London in 1949.

Tom served in a number of different posts, and became the senior assistant general secretary in 1973 before his election as general secretary in 1977. In those days the election was by branch block vote and not, as now, by individual ballot of the membership.

Making his mark on the national scene in the transport industry, the Labour Party and TUC circles, Tom Jenkins was awarded the CBE in 1981. Following his retirement, he served for a number of years on the ACAS Arbitration Board, the Central Arbitration Committee, the Police Complaints Board and the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

His time as general secretary saw a change of government with the election of the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher in 1979. A raft of laws designed to weaken the trade unions followed, together with the first moves towards transferring the publicly owned transport industry into the private sector.

Although the full impact of these moves was not felt until the years after his retirement, Tom Jenkins was the first general secretary who had to address these developments, which were to have such a profound effect on the Association and its membership.

Tom Jenkins was known as an assiduous and dogged negotiator with an eye for detail and a memory to match. He was frequently able – aided also by his shorthand skills – to quote back at people, usually management representatives and often to their embarrassment, word for word what they had said much earlier in a meeting or at a previous meeting.

Trade unionism ran in his family and his brother Clive Jenkins was general secretary of the then Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staff – now part of Unite.

Tom leaves his wife Joyce and two daughters.

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