OBITUARY : Walter Anderson

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The Independent Online
When he qualified as a solicitor in 1933, Walter Anderson was sacked by his Merseyside legal firm as "too expensive to employ". That experience conditioned him to the plight of other employees and undoubtedly helped him when he became general secretary of a leading trade union - the National Local Government Officers Association (Nalgo) - in 1957.

It was quite a novelty to have a "legal eagle" for a trade-union chief. Indeed, Anderson's family believe that he was the first lawyer to become a union leader, at a time when most were from a blue-collar background. But whether this helped him become a socialist or not nobody ever knew. Anderson's politics remained private to the day he died, and he even refused to tell his family which way he voted in local or national elections.

Walter Anderson - he was known as "Andy" by family and friends - was born in Bootle, Liverpool, in 1910, and followed his father, William Walter Anderson, who died of diabetes at the age of 38, into the legal profession. His father's partner took Walter under his wing when he was only 15 and persuaded him to become a lawyer. He gained a First Class law degree at Liverpool University and in 1933 went as an assistant solicitor to Bootle town hall, where he also took a keen interest in trade-union affairs. He moved in 1934 to Heywood, in Lancashire, where he was deputy town clerk until 1937, when he joined Nalgo as an assistant solicitor.

In 1941 Anderson joined the Royal Air Force. He spent much of the Second World War serving in North Africa and returned to Nalgo in 1946 as legal officer. He served under John Warren as Deputy General Secretary in the early 1950s and succeeded him in 1957.

Anderson's proudest moment was taking his union into the Trade Union Congress in 1965. He was elected to the TUC General Council in the same year. He worked tirelessly to make Nalgo as important in TUC circles as the blue-collar unions. It was already the biggest white-collar union in the world, and when it joined with the National Union of Public Employees (Nupe) and the Confederation of Health Service Employees (Cohse) to form Unison, in 1993, it became the biggest union in Britain.

Nalgo's affiliation to the TUC marked the start of an amazing change in the balance of power of the unions in the TUC, which added weight to the growing impact on policy-making of the white-collar unions. The traditional strength of the manual and industrial unions on which the "cart horse" image was founded, was now challenged.

Alan Jinkinson, the general secretary of Unison, said: "Nalgo owed much to Anderson for the resolute way in which he represented the union during difficult and changing times. He was the general secretary who led Nalgo into the TUC in 1965, and with its 338,322 members joined Cohse and Nupe in virtually doubling the size of membership of the public employees group.He was also instrumental in moving Nalgo to abandon its traditional silence on public issues. He opened up the way for Nalgo to begin campaigning on public and `political' issues for the benefit of members, while remaining politically independent."

Anderson ruffled a few feathers at the 1966 TUC conference, where he opposed the general council's proposal that wages should be compulsorily frozen, as the Labour government of the day wanted, in an effort to curb inflation. He made it clear that his union would only voluntarily co-operate with a prices and incomes policy. Speaking to delegates, he said: "That policy will be successful only with the voluntary co-operation of the trade-union movement. Once you introduce penal provisions you start to erode that voluntary co-operation."

His view was savagely attacked by John Boyd, of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, who denounced Nalgo "rebels without a cause". Blasting the union he said: ``Is it not true that their members are cushioned by longer holidays, better superannuation and better sick-pay schemes than the manual workers? If you are really interested in the good of the nation, bearing in mind that, in the main, you represent people who produce nothing, is it asking too much to ask you to make a little contribution to solve our nation's problems?'' It was typical of the flak Anderson received, but he always represented his members' interests first and foremost.Richard Crossman, in his diaries, dubbed Anderson ``a very nice man'' even though his union was bitterly opposed to Labour's ill-fated Pensions White Paper.

On retiring in 1973, Anderson remained active and served on various bodies, such as the Independent Broadcasting Authority, the London School of Economics, and the Fulton Committee on civil service recruitment, structure, management and training.

He was a fanatical Liverpool FC supporter and followed cricket to such an extent that he used to visit Lord's during his lunch hour. Indeed, his motto in personal and public life was: ``always keep the ball on the wicket, that way you'll always get the opponent out''. He was also a very keen gardener and crown bowls enthusiast. It was typical of the man that he treasured a Liverpool FC centenary tie, given to him by a director at the club, as much as he did his title.

Walter Charles Anderson, lawyer, trade-unionist: born Bootle, Lancashire 3 December 1910; General Secretary, Nalgo 1957-73; CBE 1968; married 1941 Doris Deacon (two sons); died 1 March 1995.