Kate Losinska: Activist who struggled for the future of trade unionism in Britain while fighting factions in her own union

 

Heroism was in the very soul of the woman who fought a 20-year battle for the future of trades unionism in Britain, just before it was eclipsed. Kate Losinska, a soldier’s daughter and wife of a decorated Polish Second World War airforce officer, proved herself the Boadicea of moderate workers’ association in the decades before Margaret Thatcher’s government passed the Trade Union Act of 1984, which had the effect of limiting industrial action and hence union power.

Losinska, described in 1975 as “a London housewife” in news reports of her first election to the presidency of Britain’s largest civil-service union, soon won the soubriquet “indomitable”. It was a quality that was needed in the years that followed, in which warring factions of right and left so racked her organisation, the Civil and Public Services Association, that it became known as the trades unions’ Beirut.   

The 5ft-tall, bespectacled woman with the cockney accent “you could sharpen scissors on”, as one commentator put it, first made her mark after her election by taking her detractors in the union to the High Court. She alleged libel, and won, and though she was ousted the following year, she remained a prominent player in the union’s Punch-and-Judy politics for the next decade, at last being made OBE for services to it in 1985.

Reform of the block-voting system led by branch meetings of activists was a cardinal aspect of her campaign. She sought secret postal ballots of all members for the election of officials, something that turned out to be in the spirit of the coming age, when government legislation was to impose the secret ballot on unions as a prerequisite for any strike. In the 1970s, when union disputes were a prominent part of public life and pay settlements of double percentage figures frequent, the CPSA hierarchy and its 24-member National Executive Committee were prey to factions, with the left divided between traditional communists leading the “Broad Left” group, and Trotskyists in control of the “Redder Tape” alliance. Redder Tape was later to become identified with the Militant Tendency that influenced the Labour Party in the 1980s.

On her 1975 election, in which she trounced her nearest rival by more than 10,000 votes, Losinska declared: “I personally do not matter a row of beans, but what I represent matters very much to other trade unions which are also under attack.” When she was ousted, she vowed: “The CPSA is my whole life and I intend to carry on working for it.”

The girl from Selhurst Grammar School, Croydon, who had begun work at 17 in 1939 at the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, was to become CPSA President again from 1979-82, and once more from 1983-86, and in between remained one of the union’s two vice-presidents. She was also a delegate member of the Council of Civil Service Unions from 1970-87, and the council’s chairman from 1980-81.

Her prime coincided with the 1976-78 Grunwick dispute, the 1978-79 “winter of discontent”, the 1980 steelworkers’ strike and the miners’ strike of 1984-85. In 1983 she led a “deluge of criticism” of the miners’ leader Arthur Scargill by trades unionists when he spoke out against the Polish trade union Solidarity, the rise of which marked the beginning of the end for Communism in Eastern Europe. “He now shows blind allegiance to the communist philosophy and as such I don’t think he is any longer credible as a trade unionist,” she said.

The same year she remarked: “CPSA mirrors the state of the Labour Party. Militant Tendency is tearing the Labour Party apart, just as it is tearing the CPSA apart.”

She held “a fundamental objection to extremism” and opposed “political groups using the union for political purposes”, she told CPSA members in April 1984. All through her prominence at the CPSA and her leadership of the moderates’ “Daylight” group, she was the subject of attacks on her and her allies’ probity.

Her High Court action against the union’s then left-controlled executive in 1975 was to prevent censure motions being issued against her of which the plain object, her counsel said, was to punish her by diminishing her standing in the eyes of the membership in a way likely to prejudice her prospects for re-election.

The action arose from an article in Reader’s Digest in which she had said the union was being infiltrated by Marxists and Trotskyists, and a proposed reply by the executive in the union’s journal, Red Tape. Opponents later focused on her and other union moderates’ membership of the council of Truemid, an anti-communist organisation formed in the 1970s and originally associated with the SAS-founder Colonel David Stirling, but having as its driving force, according to newspaper reports, Major John Ogier, a wartime aide-de-camp to Winston Churchill and holder of the Military Cross for service in Italy, who died in 1977.

Losinska dismissed as “scurrilous” a claim by the Broad Left group in 1978 that Truemid had paid £10,000 for her presidential election campaign. Charles Elliott, chairman of the CPSA moderates, said Truemid had helped to produce the moderate group’s journal, Daylight, and was being repaid. But the moderates were, like the leftists, to split. In 1986 Losinska combined with the Militant Tendency faction to prevent the CPSA merging with the Society of Civil and Public Servants, which represented office managers, rather than the CPSA’s clerical grades. The moderates divided into the National Moderate Group, supporting Losinska,  and the Democratic Moderate Group, which considered her too autocratic.

“I am not ashamed of joining forces with Militant Tendency to defeat a merger”, she announced, but her long-time champion, the Times columnist Bernard Levin, on 14 April that year gloomily quoted Edmund Burke: “the good must associate, else they will fall”, and withheld his usual paean of praise. The CPSA was later merged to become part of today’s Public and Commercial Services Union.

In retirement Losinska lived in the Republic of Ireland with her husband, Stanislaw, a holder of the Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military decoration, who as a lieutenant worked in the Polish air force’s intelligence section in London in the Second World War and served with RAF 301 (Polish) bomber squadron; and their son, Julian.

Kathleen Mary Conway, trade unionist: born London 5 October 1922; 1985 OBE; married 1942 Stanislaw Losinski (died 2002; one son); died Limerick 16 October 2013.

Arts and Entertainment
TV Review: rSabotage, a major meltdown and, of course, plenty of sauce
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100'Geography can be tough'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Louis van Gaal looks dejected after Manchester United's 4-0 defeat by MK Dons on Tuesday night
sport
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?