Roy Grantham, who died on 25 October at the age of 86, was the general secretary of the trade union Apex from 1971 to 1989. A tax inspector by profession, he had risen through the ranks from Midlands regional organiser of the clerical workers’ union. He was a leading and outspoken trade union leader of the centre right, and an early advocate of many of the political ideas that were much later developed by New Labour.
Grantham was pro-European at a time when this was unpopular with many trade union leaders, and his union was particularly active in promoting and securing equal pay. His forthright, almost evangelical style, in the words of a fellow trade union official, was instrumental in giving Apex a louder voice.
In the 1970s, several Labour cabinet ministers were Apex members, and also the union’s “sponsored” MPs, including Denis Howell, a former Apex president, Shirley Williams, and Fred Mulley. All three were prominent in the Grunwick dispute, the subject of a recent BBC documentary, that became a political cause célèbre in the 1970s when Roy Grantham and Apex led a major industrial dispute to protect the rights of mainly female Ugandan Asian workers at a photo-processing plant.
The dispute lasted from 1976 to 1978, and involved numerous mass pickets (one attended by Shirley Williams and Denis Howell). Audrey Wise MP was arrested on the picket line.
Despite the best efforts of leading figures in the government and the TUC, as well as the intervention of the arbitration service Acas and the support of the Scarman inquiry, the strike did not end successfully for the union or the workers. However, in time Roy Grantham and Apex would be applauded for seeking to protect the rights of immigrant workers against an intransigent employer at a time when Margaret Thatcher was opposition leader. She was soon to become a prime minister determined to curtail union power. Grantham strongly opposed her policies.
Roy Grantham served on the board of Chrysler and the IBA, and was appointed CBE for services to industry in 1990. In later life he became a Croydon borough councillor. He was a committed board member of the Temperance Alliance and the Institute of Alcohol Studies, where, with his customary evangelical zeal, he worked internationally to reduce the harm caused by alcohol abuse.
He is survived by his wife, Maura, and daughters, Sarah and Claire.