John Lyons, commerce union chief – obituary


John Lyons, who has died aged 90, wielded appreciable energy as a commerce union chief in the course of the Seventies and Eighties, regardless of his personal political moderation and the modest forces he led; for the 50,000 members of his Electrical Energy Engineers’ Affiliation (later the Engineers’ and Managers’ Affiliation) managed all of the nation’s energy stations and electrical energy transmission programs.

Successive governments took nice pains to maintain Lyons on facet with beneficiant pay settlements. This was not simply due to his union’s capability to carry the nation to its knees; they’d haven’t any likelihood of resisting a miners’ strike if Lyons threw in his lot with an more and more militant Nationwide Union of Mineworkers.

Temperamentally, Lyons – an ex-Communist who turned a Labour Proper-winger and in 1986 the one union chief to hitch the SDP – was  unlikely to facet with Arthur Scargill. However he stored governments guessing to extract the very best deal for his members.

Edward Heath’s authorities purchased off the EPEA – who have been additionally in dispute over pay – because the miners ready to strike early in 1974, to keep away from having to combat on two fronts. When Scargill introduced the miners out once more 10 years later, Lyons enraged the Left by refusing to name out his members. Rejecting a request from the NUM to not cross its picket strains, he stated: “We don’t permit our business to resolve the disputes of one other.” After a 12 months, the miners have been defeated.

Lyons was one of many first normal secretaries to have a college training quite than come up by means of the ranks, and one of many first to argue – the EPEA not being affiliated to the Labour Get together – that the unions needs to be politically impartial. “Relations are one factor,” he stated. “Dependence is one other.”

Amiable and quiet-spoken, Lyons was given to bluntness the place his fellow union leaders have been involved. His warning in 1975 that they needed to modify “psychological attitudes derived from a world of rhetoric and fantasy” to the realities of every day life gained him few pals within the motion.

He repeatedly discovered himself pitted towards the enormous semi-skilled unions – particularly the Transport & Basic Staff – over pay differentials. These tensions have been most acute when, beneath the “Social Contract” with the Labour authorities elected in 1974, the Trades Union Congress accepted the T&G chief Jack Jones’s name for a flat-rate enhance of £6 per week. Lyons noticed this as an assault on his members’ way of life, however accepted it reluctantly. Ministers later gave Lyons simply sufficient floor on pay to maintain the union out of the 1978-79 “Winter of Discontent”.

With Margaret Thatcher in energy, Lyons attacked the TUC for refusing to speak to ministers about pay except they adopted its financial technique, saying: “It is a demand to which no authorities can, or ought to, agree.” Elected to the TUC Basic Council in 1983 (serving till 1991), he reminded colleagues that their members’ pursuits weren’t essentially these of the Labour Get together.

When Left-wing unions moved to expel the engineers and electricians from the TUC for accepting authorities funding for ballots, Lyons warned that this might set off the creation of an alternate grouping of average unions, which might be a robust attraction to his personal.

He additional upset the Left when in 1986 he persuaded the TUC Congress to not vote for the phasing out of nuclear energy. Shutting down one among Britain’s most competent and technologically superior industries would, he stated, deny Britain “the possibility to take part within the worldwide growth of nuclear energy, which goes to go on no matter narrow-minded politicians on this nation might imagine”.

Lyons stepped out of line once more by defending excessive pay for captains of business. He argued that such salaries paved the way in which for a significant enhance in rewards for tens of hundreds of staff at decrease ranges.

John Lyons was born on Could 19 1926, the son of Joseph Lyons, an East Finish publican, and his spouse Hetty. He was educated at St Paul’s Faculty, Regent Avenue Polytechnic and Emmanuel School, Cambridge, the place he learn Economics.

He served within the Royal Navy from 1944 to 1946, and in 1947 joined the Communist Get together – leaving in protest on the Soviet suppression of the 1956 Hungarian rebellion. After a spell in market analysis with Vacuum Oil and the Bureau of Present Affairs, he joined the workers of the Put up Workplace Engineering Union in 1952.

In 1957 Lyons turned assistant secretary of the Establishment of Skilled Civil Servants. He pressed for the Atomic Weapons Institution at Aldermaston to turn into a base for civilian R&D because the weapons programme ran down; lobbied Tony Benn over a “mind drain” of nuclear scientists to the US; and criticised the MoD for letting its most junior officers draw up main contracts after Ferranti was discovered to have made a £4.25 million extra revenue on the Bloodhound missile. He turned normal secretary of the EPEA in 1973.

Lyons was broadly supportive of the 1974-79 Labour authorities regardless of his variations with it over pay. He was one among three union leaders appointed to its Nationwide Enterprise Board, which was set as much as “again winners” in business however discovered itself backing lame geese like British Leyland.

He attacked Mrs Thatcher’s “emasculation” of the unions, however refused to order energy engineers to tug the plug in the course of the TUC’s “Day of Motion” in 1982, saying: “It might not turn into lengthy earlier than we’d be the arbiter of each dispute.”

Lyons upset Scargill on the eve of the 1984-85 miners’ strike by dismissing his anti-nuclear proof to the Sizewell energy station inquiry as “nonsense”. He was one among 5 Basic Council members to vote towards an announcement of assist for the strike, and on the TUC Congress confronted cries of “Scab!” for saying the ability staff have been being requested to strike to resolve the miners’ dispute for them.  

To fury from the ground, Lyons stated: “We might be particularly chargeable for kicking the previous and sick, in addition to the wholesome, making the unemployed extra depressing, and placing in danger the roles of many tens of hundreds who work in business. There’s not the slightest prospect of this coverage being enforce.” That November he urged the TUC to rethink its assist for the strike except the NUM made concessions.

Conservative ministers appointed Lyons to the board of the toddler British Telecom, however he resigned in protest at Cecil Parkinson’s plans for privatisation. When electrical energy privatisation was mooted, Lyons, chairing the TUC’s vitality committee, warned of “catastrophe” if the Central Electrical energy Producing Board have been damaged up, and better costs. In 1988 his personal discussions with Parkinson resulted within the authorities agreeing to guard the ability staff’s pension scheme after privatisation, a deal Lyons was happy with having achieved.

In 1990 – the 12 months earlier than his retirement – he tried to work up a management-employee buyout of PowerGen, however couldn’t forestall the corporate being floated.

From 1994 to 1996 Lyons was president of the vitality part of the EC’s Financial and Social Committee. He was at numerous occasions chairman of the Nationwide Financial Improvement Workplace working social gathering on industrial vehicles, secretary of the Electrical energy Provide Commerce Union Council, a council member of the Coverage Research Institute, and a governor of LSE and the London Enterprise Faculty. From 1996 to 1998 he was president of the Single Market Observatory, which displays the working of the EU.

He was appointed CBE in 1986.

John Lyons married Molly McCall in 1954; she died in 2009 and he’s survived by their two sons and two daughters.

John Lyons, born Could 19 1926, died Could 22 2016


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