Remembering Bill Brett, the Lord Brett of Lydd

Bill BrettThis eulogy was delivered at Bill's funeral by Paul Noon, General Secretary of the Prospect Trade Union

Bill Brett, or to use his correct title Baron Brett of Lydd, died on 29th March at the age of 70 after a year-long illness. Bill was General Secretary of the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, a predecessor union to Prospect, from 1989-1999.

Standing at 6 feet 5 inches and with a big build, Bill had a commanding presence, which he could use to good effect. He was a passionate opponent of injustice and saw trade unionism as the best vehicle to fight for fairness in the workplace and internationally. Bill had his faults, as do we all, and he could be short tempered and sometimes brusque. But you always knew that the storm would soon blow over and, at least for his part, be forgotten. On a personal note, he was a friend for 38 years and it is sad that he did not live to enjoy a longer retirement after a lifetime of work in support of trade unionism and human rights.

Bill came from Bury in Lancashire and started work aged 16 as a railway booking clerk. By 1964 he had joined the staff of his trade union, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, and then went on to work for the National Union of Bank Employees in and subsequently the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staff under Clive Jenkins. In 1974 Bill became an Assistant Secretary of the Institution of Professional Civil Servants, was promoted to Assistant General Secretary in 1980 and then appointed as General Secretary in 1989.

Bill’s time as General Secretary was one of considerable change. A new name and the loss of “Civil Servants” from the title reflected not just efforts to follow members who had been privatised but also an attempt to expand into representation of professionals and specialists in other areas, and the Isle of Man Government Officers’ Association and the National Unilever Managers’ Association both joined IPMS in the 1980’s. Bill had big and initially promising plans for a federation of smaller unions with shared services, but subsequently championed the merger with the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union led by Roger Lyons. Bill saw this not just as a defensive move to counter falling membership but as an opportunity to create a larger professional union with enhanced capacity to recruit.

It was, too say the least, controversial with many within IPMS, and subsequently the majority believing that Prospect could and should go it alone. As a consequence of this Bill indicated his intention to resign as General Secretary early in 1998.

Bill had a long-lasting and deep commitment to international trade unionism, which was reflected in his work with the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation (the “ILO”). He served on the ILO Governing body for 10 years, most of this as Chair of the Workers’ Group.  He chaired the Governing body from 2002-2003 and worked as Director of the ILO London Office from 2003-2007.

Bill was appointed as a life Peer in 1999, serving as a Government Whip and a Home Office Minister in the Lords under the previous Labour Government.

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