John Weakley : OBITUARIES

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John Weakley, acting president of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, was the nearly man of the right-wing machine which won control in the late 1970s of what was then Britain's second largest union.

Although the Right had dominated the union for 17 years, Weakley was denied the chance to become its president in 1986 when Bill Jordan, his junior at the time, outmanoeuvred him to become the right wing's official candidate in the election to succeed Terry Duffy as president.

Even though he was to have been an unofficial candidate in the March election this year, to replace the recently retired Jordan, now general secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, he was by no means certain to have been the only right-wing candidate. As in 1978, when Duffy replaced Hugh (now Lord) Scanlon, and in 1986, when Jordan succeeded Duffy, the Midlands right-wing machine could have used its numerical strength to back a local Birmingham candidate in the shape of John Allen. Weakley might have been denied for a third time because he represented one of the smallest regions on the executive, the South West and Wales. Union presidents - Scanlon from Manchester, Duffy from Birmingham - have traditionally come from the big industrial conurbations where the votes are.

Weakley looked destined to reach the top of the union when he first made his name internationally in the mid-1970s taking on the powerful union president, Hugh Scanlon, in the High Court. The union's ruling national executive committee was deadlocked 26-26 at its annual conference and Scanlon was using his casting vote in favour of the Left, who were then opposing Labour's pay policy.

Weakley persuaded the High Court to exclude Scanlon, then second only to Jack Jones in Fleet Street demonology, from voting at the union conference. It was the first of many victories for the right-wing machine led by Duffy, Weakley and the then general secretary John Boyd. By taking control of the union executive in the late 1970s, the Right played a crucial role in halting the rise of Tony Benn and the Left in the Labour Party in the early 1980s.

Weakley became a full-time union official when he became a district secretary in South Wales in 1977. Within two years, he was on the ruling national executive council, and became its longest-serving member. He was also its longest-serving member on the TUC Council. He was the union's chief negotiator for GEC, British Steel and British Aerospace, the company he started his career with as an apprentice toolmaker in Bristol in 1957. A shrewd negotiator, he was better known as a backroom fixer than a high-profile leader.

John Weakley, trade union official: born 20 March 1940; died 23 January 1995.

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