OBITUARY : Peter Hagger

The world outside the trade-union movement knew little of Peter Hagger during his lifetime. And yet he has been correctly described as the most influential lay trade-union activist in Britain.

This apparent contradiction can be explained by the fact that, despite the scale of his contribution to the Transport and General Workers' Union, Hagger was no glory-seeker. To him the movement itself - the ordinary members it represents - was more important than its leaders.

Beginning his working life as a computer engineer, Hagger became a London taxi-driver in 1969 and started activity in the Cab Section of the Transport and General Workers' Union in 1972. His leadership qualities soon became apparent and by the end of the decade he was Chair of our Region 1 Cab Trade Committee and a member of the T&G's General Executive Council. The 1980s saw him elected on to the General Council of the TUC, where he chaired the joint Consultative Committee for the Trade Union Councils (local TUCs). More recently, he became Vice-Chair of our General Executive Council and, had he lived, he would almost certainly have succeeded the retiring incumbent, Dan Duffy, as Chair.

But a mere litany of the posts that Peter Hagger held can express neither the extent of his contribution nor his unique qualities. He was involved at all levels of the movement, at the same time combining work at leadership level with activity (sometimes of the most detailed kind) at the grassroots. It was he, for example, who first conceived of the Cost Index now used by the Department of Transport to determine the level of London taxi-fares each year. Either unpaid or at best receiving only expenses, he was utterly selfless in his contribution.

Through it all, Hagger never changed. Whether in discussion with general secretaries at the TUC General Council or talking to a potential recruit on a cab rank, he was the plain-speaking, working-class activist, and treated everyone the same, regardless of their position.

This is not to say that he lacked finesse. A Marxist, he shunned sectarianism and always aimed to build the maximum unity. Although he inevitably became embroiled in the TGWU's internal disputes in the 1980s (during the course of which he was libelled by the Murdoch press) it was he who led the healing process. His gifted approach to tactics and his common sense were valued by many outside our own movement, as evidenced by the tributes paid to him by, for example, fleet taxi proprietors and vehicle manufacturers.

To those within the trade-union movement, Peter Hagger's life and work serve as an inspiration and an example. And it is to be hoped that that life and work will serve to expose, to others, the falsity of the usual caricatures of trade-unionists.

Peter Hagger, trade-unionist: born London 17 April 1944; married (one son, one daughter); died London 26 February 1995.

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