George Brumwell

Construction workers' leader


George Brent Brumwell, joiner and trade unionist: born Hartlepool, Co Durham 22 October 1939; General Secretary, Ucatt 1992-2004; CBE 2003; married first Beryl Johnson (died 1999; one son, three daughters), second 2004 Dorothy Moorhouse; died London 8 November 2005.

George Brumwell, former General Secretary of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, is credited with having rescued Ucatt from oblivion during the 1990s, when political infighting and financial mismanagement had called the future of the union into doubt. He retired in October 2004. By then, Britain's 10th biggest trade union was operating with a healthy financial surplus and was expanding its membership of over 100,000 building workers and its team of full-time officers.

When he took office as General Secretary in 1992, an atmosphere of crisis and suspicion shrouded the union. In the previous year, there had been a walkout by a dozen full-time officials to rival unions. The trigger for the defections was the election in 1991 of a new Ucatt executive council with a majority opposed to the previous leadership's plan for a grand merger with the EETPU electricians' union and the AEU engineering workers' union.

However, the incoming executive was itself soon to open merger talks with yet another rival organisation, the Transport and General Workers' Union. Brumwell, who had been elected on a strongly anti-merger platform, was in the difficult position of having to carry out the instructions of his executive while all the time being sympathetic to the large body of opinion within the union that favoured continued independence.

Matters came to a head in 1994 and 1995, with a bitter power struggle between the executive council, whose members were full-time officials, and the general council, the union's rank-and-file supervisory and appeals body. The battle was eventually settled in the High Court in London, with a ruling upholding the general council's decision to assume control of the union.

Brumwell played a key behind-the-scenes role in the manoeuvrings which saw the executive council sidelined. In January 1995 he even discharged himself from a hospital bed in order to attend a crucial meeting of the general council.

By 1997 the tide had turned decisively. The union's bank balance moved into the black. Thanks to a rule change pushed through by Brumwell, a new lay executive council had replaced the previous full-time body. In addition, the union's national delegate conference had in 1996 voted overwhelmingly in favour of Ucatt's remaining independent.

Brumwell's legacy was not just to ensure that workers in construction had their own specialist and independent trade union. His other great ambition was to make employment in construction a lifelong career. "It shouldn't just be a 'loadsamoney' job for young men, but a profession to be pursued by men and women with pride and security from apprenticeship to retirement," he said.

During his stewardship of Ucatt, Brumwell supported several innovations which went some way to seeing this ambition realised. The Construction Skills Certification Scheme, which now has 750,000 building workers on its books, was successfully introduced. There were moves by the Inland Revenue to tackle bogus self-employment and lump labour in construction. The industry's first ever contributory pension scheme was launched. And several union-sponsored measures were taken to improve the health and safety of building workers.

Brumwell joined the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers (ASW) in 1957 as a 17-year-old apprentice joiner with the Hartlepool shipbuilder William Gray. By 1962 he was the union convener at Eggborough power station in North Yorkshire, a position he held for three years.

Six years later, he was elected a full-time district official in Sheffield of the ASW - which merged with other building trade unions in 1971 to form Ucatt. In 1974 he became Ucatt's youngest regional secretary when he moved to Leeds to take charge of the Yorkshire region. From 1984 he was based in London as the full-time executive council member for the union's Midlands and Yorkshire regions.

In 1991 Brumwell won a sharply contested ballot to become general secretary of the union. The fact that he was re-elected unopposed five years later was a clear indication of the way that he had by then both put an end to years of factional infighting and imposed his personal authority on the union.

Jim Jump

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own