Maureen Rooney

Trade-union movement moderniser
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The Independent Online

Maureen Gowran Cunningham, trade unionist: born Blantyre, Lanarkshire 27 April 1947; National Women's Officer, Amalgamated Engineering & Electrical Union 1990-2003 (Amicus-AEEU since 2002); Co-Chair, Women's National Commission 1993-95; OBE 1996, CBE 2002; married 1966 Philip Rooney (one son, three daughters); died London 2 May 2003.

Maureen Rooney was a talented trade unionist who spent her life encouraging others to realise their potential. From 1990 until her death she was National Women's Officer for the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (now part of Amicus), and held a number of positions in the wider trade union movement.

She was small in size but had a stature and personality that would fill a room. I always admired her knack of influencing a debate through constructive dialogue and often with a well-timed, sharp and witty intervention, quickly followed by her characteristic laugh.

Her rise through the ranks of the union is testimony to her dedication and focus. After a short career as a hairdresser, she moved on to bring up her four children with her husband, Phil. With her family growing up, she got a job in 1974 as a machine operator with Hoover at Cambuslang, Lanarkshire, where she became active within the Amalgamated Engineering Union.

That Hoover plant was a hotbed of AEU talent, producing not only Maureen Rooney but also Bill Tynan, MP for Hamilton South, and Tom McCabe, MSP for the same constituency. She served on the AEU's Mid Lanark district committee and then on the AEU National Committee. This was not a forum for the faint-hearted.

By the end of the 1980s the AEU was still a male-dominated institution, but, in recognition of the recruitment opportunities being missed, the then General Secretary, Sir Gavin Laird, persuaded the union's traditionalists to create the position of National Women's Officer. Rooney seized her opportunity with aplomb, beating better-known opponents for the nomination and in the election.

In 1992 her role expanded to encompass equalities in the newly formed Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU), after a merger with the EETPU. Here she created an equalities structure that encouraged a whole new generation of activists within the AEEU and, importantly, brought equality issues into the mainstream. Many people in Amicus-AEEU now, from activists to members of staff and union officers, would not be playing such a crucial role in the union today had they not been encouraged by Rooney and developed their skills through the structures that she argued for the union to put in place.

She held many senior positions across the trade union movement. Elected to the TUC General Council in 1990, she later became a member of the TUC Executive Committee and the TUC Women's Committee. This opened other doors for her. She co-chaired the Women's National Commission from 1993 to 1996, became a member of the board of management of the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit and served as a Vice-President of the National Childminders' Association.

Rooney was instrumental in arguing for pragmatic policies in our union that subsequently influenced the Labour Party's modernisation. Her dedication to the Labour movement was unfaltering, even in the last few weeks of her life when her health was deteriorating. She was with our delegation in Dundee during the Scottish Labour Party Conference in April.

John Quigley