TUC chief shaped by early life in Oxford

thisisoxfordshire: Frances O'Grady Frances O'Grady

FROM a shop steward’s daughter sitting cross-legged at Cowley’s British Leyland plant, to becoming one of the most powerful women in the country, Frances O’Grady’s rise has been spectacular.

The Oxford-born 53-year-old became the first female general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) this year.

She said her appointment, where she has been deputy general secretary since 2003, was “an incredible honour”.

The daughter of British Leyland worker Jim O’Grady, she grew up on Oxford’s Wood Farm estate.

She said: “I’ve got happy memories of Wood Farm, especially my little school [Wood Farm Junior School]. There were so many big families.

“I remember things like going down Cuckoo Lane to watch Oxford United play, and swimming in the rivers.”

The Cowley car plant – plagued by industrial disputes in the 1970s and 1980s – played a big part in her family’s life.

She said: “There was a social club up there and, despite all the troubles at Cowley, one of my fond memories was that all the kids of the workers would go up, sit cross-legged and watch films and be given a Mars bar and an ice cream.

“It was this great event that everybody looked forward to.”

As a teenager in the 1970s she worked at Paris’s Newsagent, in Headington, Marks & Spencer in the city centre, and Oxford University’s Somerville College.

It was during that short-lived job serving Oxford dons that she became aware of the city’s ‘Town and Gown’ divide.

It was a job that quickly came to an end, she admits, after she placed a very hot plate on the shoulder of a guest while listening in to conversations.

She added: “There was a really sharp contrast between North and South. I would say it was sharper than it is now.”

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The car industry’s woes were often blamed on poor relationships between bosses and unions, but Mrs O’Grady said owners failed to adapt to the times.

She said: “There was a lack of development of new products and quality standards which was a major problem for the British car industry at the time.

“I remember one of the pamphlets I’d kept was arguing that the company needed to invest in hybrid and electric cars, arguing that Japan had already built prototypes.

“If only the industry had listened to its workers back then, Britain would be a market leader in green cars.”

She worked for the Transport and General Workers’ Union and started with the TUC as campaigns secretary in 1994.

Trade unionism was definitely in Ms O’Grady’s blood – grand-father Eddie Hamilton was in the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union.

But she said: “We can’t rely on trade unions being handed down the generations.

“There are large numbers of young people who have never been in a union and unions need to change and encourage people to join.”

Comments (3)

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6:26pm Fri 1 Feb 13

cb1917 says...

All well and good, but when is Ms O'Grady going to push the TUC into organising an all-out general strike against austerity, the Con-Dem government, New Labour and capitalism?
All well and good, but when is Ms O'Grady going to push the TUC into organising an all-out general strike against austerity, the Con-Dem government, New Labour and capitalism? cb1917

7:34pm Fri 1 Feb 13

Myron Blatz says...

O'Grady Says? Don't be daft 'cb1917' - trade unions and Labour shout a lot about 'workers rights' and 'more pay and better conditions' but then leave the employers, tax-payers and everyone else to actually PAYE for all they demand! It is a strongly held belief that trade unions were in unison and often seen to unite with employers in the strike-ridden 1960s-80s and beyond. Today, things aren't very much different - except that because there are so few 'blue-collar' workers left (unless you count all those from outside the UK) and that manufacturing is a mere shadow of what it was 40 years ago, the unions and Labour have to rely on support from the 'white-collar' shop, office workers and employees in the public and government sectors for support - including teachers. So, next time Labour and the unions encourage people to go on strike for more pay and better conditions, ask yourself why they don't strike for those who are already pensioners? Where is the trade union specifically for the ever-growing numbers of British people over 67 (let alone 60 or 65) for whom there is little or no effective support and backing, and just how many Labour MPs could happily survive and live on the current State Pension? Forget what Labour's Ed Balls and the Party's local Labour councillors say about the Coalition, when it was the previous Labour government which bailed-out the banks with £billions of public money, but failed to effectively support Pensioners, Ms O'Grady. Labour would do it better - only for 13 years when in government, they didn't!
O'Grady Says? Don't be daft 'cb1917' - trade unions and Labour shout a lot about 'workers rights' and 'more pay and better conditions' but then leave the employers, tax-payers and everyone else to actually PAYE for all they demand! It is a strongly held belief that trade unions were in unison and often seen to unite with employers in the strike-ridden 1960s-80s and beyond. Today, things aren't very much different - except that because there are so few 'blue-collar' workers left (unless you count all those from outside the UK) and that manufacturing is a mere shadow of what it was 40 years ago, the unions and Labour have to rely on support from the 'white-collar' shop, office workers and employees in the public and government sectors for support - including teachers. So, next time Labour and the unions encourage people to go on strike for more pay and better conditions, ask yourself why they don't strike for those who are already pensioners? Where is the trade union specifically for the ever-growing numbers of British people over 67 (let alone 60 or 65) for whom there is little or no effective support and backing, and just how many Labour MPs could happily survive and live on the current State Pension? Forget what Labour's Ed Balls and the Party's local Labour councillors say about the Coalition, when it was the previous Labour government which bailed-out the banks with £billions of public money, but failed to effectively support Pensioners, Ms O'Grady. Labour would do it better - only for 13 years when in government, they didn't! Myron Blatz

4:10am Sat 2 Feb 13

Grunden Skip says...

Myron Blatz wrote:
O'Grady Says? Don't be daft 'cb1917' - trade unions and Labour shout a lot about 'workers rights' and 'more pay and better conditions' but then leave the employers, tax-payers and everyone else to actually PAYE for all they demand! It is a strongly held belief that trade unions were in unison and often seen to unite with employers in the strike-ridden 1960s-80s and beyond. Today, things aren't very much different - except that because there are so few 'blue-collar' workers left (unless you count all those from outside the UK) and that manufacturing is a mere shadow of what it was 40 years ago, the unions and Labour have to rely on support from the 'white-collar' shop, office workers and employees in the public and government sectors for support - including teachers. So, next time Labour and the unions encourage people to go on strike for more pay and better conditions, ask yourself why they don't strike for those who are already pensioners? Where is the trade union specifically for the ever-growing numbers of British people over 67 (let alone 60 or 65) for whom there is little or no effective support and backing, and just how many Labour MPs could happily survive and live on the current State Pension? Forget what Labour's Ed Balls and the Party's local Labour councillors say about the Coalition, when it was the previous Labour government which bailed-out the banks with £billions of public money, but failed to effectively support Pensioners, Ms O'Grady. Labour would do it better - only for 13 years when in government, they didn't!
The sad fact is Myron, is that Labour were not in power for 13 days let alone years. A group of closet Tories led by a traitor ran the country for 13 years. When the Great John Smith died, the Labour Party went with him. If "labour" win the next election how many millionaires will be in the cabinet, that is NOT labour. At least Frances is from a true Labour background, and not some ex-public school kid pretending to be.
[quote][p][bold]Myron Blatz[/bold] wrote: O'Grady Says? Don't be daft 'cb1917' - trade unions and Labour shout a lot about 'workers rights' and 'more pay and better conditions' but then leave the employers, tax-payers and everyone else to actually PAYE for all they demand! It is a strongly held belief that trade unions were in unison and often seen to unite with employers in the strike-ridden 1960s-80s and beyond. Today, things aren't very much different - except that because there are so few 'blue-collar' workers left (unless you count all those from outside the UK) and that manufacturing is a mere shadow of what it was 40 years ago, the unions and Labour have to rely on support from the 'white-collar' shop, office workers and employees in the public and government sectors for support - including teachers. So, next time Labour and the unions encourage people to go on strike for more pay and better conditions, ask yourself why they don't strike for those who are already pensioners? Where is the trade union specifically for the ever-growing numbers of British people over 67 (let alone 60 or 65) for whom there is little or no effective support and backing, and just how many Labour MPs could happily survive and live on the current State Pension? Forget what Labour's Ed Balls and the Party's local Labour councillors say about the Coalition, when it was the previous Labour government which bailed-out the banks with £billions of public money, but failed to effectively support Pensioners, Ms O'Grady. Labour would do it better - only for 13 years when in government, they didn't![/p][/quote]The sad fact is Myron, is that Labour were not in power for 13 days let alone years. A group of closet Tories led by a traitor ran the country for 13 years. When the Great John Smith died, the Labour Party went with him. If "labour" win the next election how many millionaires will be in the cabinet, that is NOT labour. At least Frances is from a true Labour background, and not some ex-public school kid pretending to be. Grunden Skip

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