Veteran Communist hands over the reins: Barrie Clement reviews the career of a trade unionist who provoked hatred and admiration in equal measure

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Indy Politics
A MAN who can almost certainly boast one of the thickest MI5 files in existence is attending his last TUC Congress as a union leader.

Ken Gill, the last of the old guard Communists at the top of the union movement, is retiring as leader of the Manufacturing Science Finance union.

Described even by his Communist comrades as a 'hard-line Stalinist', he has attracted - in equal measure - the hatred and admiration of his more liberal union colleagues. Mr Gill was chosen as the 'trade unionists' trade unionist' in a straw poll conducted three years ago by the Observer newspaper. Even Eric Hammond, the hard-right leader of the electricians' union, voted for him.

His intellect is matched by personal confidence - his self-importance was reinforced by the discovery of an electronic bug in his home, allegedly the property of Her Majesty's Government.

A design engineer, Mr Gill learnt his Communism during the Second World War from a lodger at the family home in Melksham, Wiltshire. His politics resulted in unpopularity with employers, and eventually found expression in the union movement in London.

His political and industrial activism led to his election as leader of Tass, a private-sector white-collar union whose name appropriately enough echoed that of the main Soviet news agency.

Mr Gill and his Communist colleagues ruled the union with ruthless efficiency with the seeming acquiesence of a membership most of which probably voted Conservative. After a period in tandem with the engineering workers' union, Tass struck out on its own and two years ago merged with the white-collar ASTMS led by the mercurial, non-Communist left-winger Clive Jenkins.

After Mr Jenkins's retirement, Mr Gill became sole leader of MSF. He is succeeded by Roger Lyons, whose politics are more akin to the soft-left Mr Jenkins.

Mr Gill, a gifted cartoonist, was expelled from the Communist Party of Great Britain for his pro- Soviet politics and his refusal, as chairman of the Morning Star newspaper, to dismiss senior editorial staff who had departed from the softer Euro-Communist approach of the CPGB, now the Democratic Left.

Mr Gill has resisted the political charms of the new hardline Communist Party of Britain, where some of his comrades have found a philosophical home. He now intends to concentrate much of his efforts on rescuing the ailing Morning Star. He will have his work cut out.

(Photograph omitted)