The coming together of two leaders

Reporter’s Guide in association with Unite the Union

Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley didn’t know each other before they stepped to the forefront of their respective unions, but their backgrounds bear a startling similarity.

They are roughly the same age; both worked in engineering and manufacturing and came up through traditional trade union routes. Both gained the respect of their peers. Most significant of all in the formation of Unite, both come from the left, and their election heralded a move to the left for Amicus in particular, but also the T & G.

Ironically, given the mildly loaded interpretation the term has acquired in recent Labour party history, both agreed on the need for the labour movement to modernise.

Derek Simpson left his Sheffield school in 1957 at the age of 15 to become an apprentice in a local engineering firm. He came from a traditional union background and was soon involved in the union, as a shop steward and convenor before being elected Sheffield district secretary in 1981. He took office as general secretary of Amicus AEEU and joint general secretary of Amicus the union in December 2002. He is a member of the TUC Executive Committee and chairs the TUC manufacturing task group.

Derek joined the Labour party 14 years ago after a long spell in the Communist party.

He enjoys chess, music, and has an Open University degree in mathematics and computers.

In 1967, 19-year-old Tony Woodley started work at Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port factory where his father George was the full-time works convenor. Tony joined the National Union of Vehicle Builders (NUVB), soon to become part of the T&G. By the early 1980s he was convenor for the plant. In 2002 he was elected deputy general secretary of the T & G and became general secretary in 2003.

The local Labour party is Tony’s only other organisation, and he worked to deliver Wallasey’s first ever Labour MP, Angela Eagle, who displaced Tory government minister Linda Chalker.

He is chairman of Vauxhall Motors Football Club, a community-based organisation supporting teams from the age of six.

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