Monday 31 July 2023

Tribute to Ron Webster's 80 years of trade union activism as he is laid to rest

Tommy Campbell, Chair of Aberdeen and District Unite Retired Members' Branch and a delegate to the ATUC, made the following moving tribute to ATUC member and stalwart trade unionist, Ron Webster at his funeral today.

"At the young age of 14 Ron joined the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers in 1941 when he started his joinery apprenticeship. He was an integral part of the Second World War effort during his apprenticeship working on parts for the RAF’s Wellington bombers.

His apprenticeship was stalled when he enlisted with the Gordon Highlanders in 1945. After Ron completed his National Service, he returned to his apprenticeship working on the Trams in Aberdeen.

He continued working on the Trams until they were decommissioned in 1958 by the Aberdeen bus corporation. 

His membership of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers then transferred to the National Union of Vehicle Builders and Ron continued in his role as   an elected shop steward and a Union branch official of the National Union of Vehicle Builders.

He continued in these roles following the merger of the National Union of Vehicle Builders with the Transport and General Workers Union in 1972. 

Ron also served as the local NUVB delegate on the TGWU Grampian and Northern Isles District Committee, the TGWU Scottish Regional Automotive Trade Group. The District Committee also elected him to the Scottish Regional Committee representing Union members interests from all over Scotland.

In addition to his T&G positions Ron was elected as the Secretary of Aberdeen Trades Council and in turn elected as the representative of all Scottish Trades Councils onto the Executive Council of the STUC. 

Ron was held in such high regards by the STUC’s affiliated Trade Unions and Trades Councils that he was elected the President of the STUC in 1989.

During his tenure as President of the STUC Ron proudly led a march of tens of thousands through Edinburgh’s city centre calling for an end to the spiteful poll-tax introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government.

In Aberdeen whether it be the ATUC’s annual May Day March or the St Andrew’s Day March Ron was always there leading those marches down Union Street too. 

He always supported workers during their industrial disputes whether that was in Aberdeen, elsewhere in Scotland.

He ensured that their appeals for financial support and solidarity were widely circulated throughout the Trade Union branches affiliated to the Aberdeen Trades Council.

A quick glimpse through the Trades Council’s annual reports and you will find that Ron along with others was on the frontline of providing support and solidarity to the many local and national industrial disputes.

In more recent times when l visited him at home, he always wanted to be kept up to date with the current industrial disputes and always asked that l convey his support and solidarity when l visited the picket lines.

Ron along with other ATUC delegates provided support for international solidarity campaigns around our world especially where Trade Unionists were subject to persecution, imprisonment and execution whilst campaigning for workers and human rights.

He supported the International Brigades Memorial Trust and was very proud that both the City Council and ATUC honoured his fellow Aberdonians who had joined the International Brigades to oppose fascism in Spain.

He always promoted Hope over Hate and this was a quality that came easily to Ron as he truly believed that there was only one race – that is the human race because he recognised we are all Jock Tamson’s bairns.

So it should come as no surprise that he also actively opposed the racist apartheid regime of South Africa and in that regard he was very proud that Aberdeen District Council awarded the Freedom of the City to Winnie and Nelson Mandela. He was proud to have met with Nelson Mandela when he visited Scotland in 1993 to receive that award.. 

After his retirement from Firstbus Ron remained a delegate to the Aberdeen Trades Council representing his Retired Union members branch. He regularly attended his Union branch meetings and was in attendance at our last meeting on the 12th June.

Ron played a full and active part in the Scottish Trade Union Movement  and  he was  honoured for that at the STUC Conference in Aberdeen last year for his 80 years of active trade union membership.

Ron was a true gentleman who always treated everybody with dignity and respect.

It is a true reflection of his good character that the many people who knew him are very upset at his death.

We will honour his lifetime of trade union activity by continuing to organise and campaign to improve the lives of everyone whether in the workplace or in the wider community. 

So on this very sad occasion we salute Ron Webster as he was a true working- class hero and stalwart of the Scottish Trade Union Movement.

We express our deepest sympathy to Ron’s family and his friends for the sad loss of such a lovely man who was highly respected by all those who have ever had the pleasure of meeting him.