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Norman Willis obituary

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Leader of the TUC during one of the most traumatic periods in trade union history

No trade union leader since the second world war had to cope with such a catalogue of disasters, nor become so embroiled in a climate of political and industrial decline, as Norman Willis, the former general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, who has died aged 81. As TUC general secretary for nine years from 1984 and before that as No 2 to Len Murray for almost 11 years, Willis was at the ringside, and then inside the ring, during what was one of the most traumatic and damaging periods in British trade union history.

The TUC had reached record membership levels of more than 12 million affiliated trade unionists under the leadership successively of George Woodcock, Victor Feather and Murray. The role of leading the TUC then fell to Willis a jolly, humorous man. It was, however, a poisoned chalice. He presided over a period in which the very phrase "trade union" seemed to evoke ignominious response and even ridicule. When he took over from Murray in mid-stream of the miners' strike the decline in TUC membership had already begun. By the time Willis left Congress House in 1993, membership had dropped to below eight million.

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