Lord Morris of Handsworth rose from shop floor to shop steward to lead one of Britain’s biggest trade unions

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Bill Morris was born in Jamaica in 1938 and grew up in the parish of Manchester, where he excelled at cricket and hoped to one day to play for the West Indies. He also intended to go to agricultural college but after his father died he moved to Birmingham, England, to live with his mother in 1954.

He found a job at Hardy Spicers, a local engineering company, and began studying at Handsworth Technical College. In 1958, he joined the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G). Bill became a full-time union official in 1973 when he took the post of organiser for the Nottingham and Derby district; he later became the Northampton district secretary.

His first national role came in 1979 when he was appointed National Secretary for the Passenger Services Trade Group, negotiating pay and conditions on the buses. In 1986, he became Deputy General Secretary at a time when the Thatcher government was introducing legislation to limit union powers. His main role was to manage union activity in four transport sectors, energy and engineering sectors, as well as represent white collar members.

Bill took over the leadership of the union when he was elected to the position of General Secretary in 1991. During his 12-year term of office, he was involved in many campaigns to improve workers’ rights and establish greater equality in the workplace.

In the 1980s and 1990s he became a prominent campaigner for a minimum wage in Britain and one of the Blair government’s first achievements after its landslide election victory of 1997 was to implement a minimum wage.

Alongside his work for the T&G, which was absorbed by the new union Unite in 2007, Bill worked as an adviser to several national bodies, including the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority. In 1998 he became a non-executive director of the Bank of England and in 1999 he was part of the Royal Commission for Reform of the House of Lords.

In 2003 Bill received a knighthood. In 2006 Prime Minister Tony Blair gave him a life peerage and he took the title Lord Morris of Handsworth. He sits on the Labour benches and serves on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.

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