About Jimmy Knapp

Jimmy Knapp was one of the best known trade union figures of his generation.

General secretary of Britain's largest rail union from 1983 until his death from cancer in 2001, his term of office covered rail privatisation and a number of high profile industrial disputes.

Though the railways were at the centre of Jimmy's life, he was also a highly influential figure within the wider trade union movement, helping turn the TUC into a more campaign-focussed organisation, and within the Labour Party, where he strongly supported many of the changes which helped to make the Party electable again in 1997.

Born into a railway family in Hurlford, Ayrshire in 1940, by the age of 15 Jimmy was at work in the local signal box. By 18, he was combining his signalling duties with those of branch collector for the National Union of Railwaymen; and by 21 he was NUR branch secretary. He rose through the union ranks becoming a full-time official at the age of 31. He came to London in 1972 as NUR HQ organiser and in 1983, at the age of 43, he was elected general secretary of the union.

As general secretary, he played a central role in the merger with the National Union of Seamen which, led to the formation, in 1990, of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, the union which Jimmy led until his death in August 2001.

He served on the TUC General Council from 1983 and was President of Congress in 1994.

He undertook a wide range of duties on behalf of the trade union movement but always remained close to the local volunteer activists who drive the movement. He chaired the TUC's Trades Councils Committee, and for many years was the chair of the TUC South East Regional Council.

He was also a great internationalist, chairing the railway section of the International Transport Workers Federation and joining the fight against apartheid long before it became a popular cause. He was a Director of Unity Trust, the trade union bank, and its president for 10 years.

His great passion was trade union education. The growth of learning services and the rise of the learning rep owe much to the work of Jimmy Knapp.

His support for those in need extended to the sporting arena where his loyalties were shared between Kilmarnock, the team of his youth, and Crystal Palace, his local team in South London.

Jimmy died despite all medicine's best efforts to drive out the cancer that took hold of his body. His wife Eva, who helped him bear the pain of his final year, has requested that donations in Jimmy's memory should go to the newly established Jimmy Knapp Cancer Fund.

Online Obituaries

>> By TUC General Secretary, John Monks

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