We’re having to say good-bye to our outgoing General Secretary, Ronnie Draper, in a way that we hadn’t planned, thanks to the current situation and the government’s response to COVID-19. Originally, the idea was for Ronnie to have one last hurrah and say his farewells at our Annual Conference in Southport, which had been scheduled for June this year. However, once it became apparent that Conference wouldn’t be taking place, Ronnie took the selfless decision to retire earlier and allow the incoming General Secretary, Sarah Woolley, to take the reins and move the Union forward.
Ronnie has been with the BFAWU for 47 years. During that time, he’s held countless positions and roles from workplace representative, through to Organiser, Regional Officer, National President and General Secretary. He’s seen and experienced many ups and downs, has led strikes, organised workplaces and delivered important improvements to our members’ terms and conditions. He’s spear-headed a number of successful campaigns, such as ‘Cool It’ and also managed to get the TUC to adopt the £10 per hour campaign, among many others.
No one has ever been able to embellish a story as well as Ronnie can, but all those (including myself) who’ve either experienced or been at the heart of Ronnie’s storytelling will tell you that it helped to create a great camaraderie and real sense of family. No matter what was going on, we knew that the support for each other was always there and Ronnie believed very strongly in that. If any Union employee, officer or member was suffering in some way, Ronnie would always be there to offer support to them when he found out about the situation.
We all have our own standout moments of being in Ronnie’s company, such as the time on Pennine Foods’ picket line when he told South Yorkshire Police Officers to back off, as it wouldn’t be a good look to be seen to be oppressing workers once again, especially whilst they were still being investigated for the roles they played at Hillsborough and Orgreave.
Ronnie was fortunate to work alongside so many giants in our Union, including Joe Marino and Terry O’Neill and enjoyed strong relationships with the likes of Arthur Scargill, Bob Crow, Tony Benn and of course, Jeremy Corbyn. He made sure that as a Union, we kept grounded and on the right path both politically, and in terms of the people we represent. Ronnie was always happiest in the company of our Union members and could always be found shooting the fat with them at BFAWU events, courses and Conferences. The fact that it was usually near the bar was purely coincidental.
Ronnie has contributed to many different organisations both in the UK and internationally, giving evidence in both Parliament and the European Union. As a National Officer, he has always put his heart and soul into defending our members and our Union. We know that his commitment to the BFAWU will not end when he retires and I’m sure he’ll always be available to give support, advice and no doubt a story or two.
I know that you will all join me in wishing Ronnie a long and happy retirement.
Ian Hodson (BFAWU National President)