History

Aug 1927   Born in Melksham, Wiltshire. Youngest child of four. Father “Edward Gill” a plumber cum shopkeeper

1938           Wins scholarship to Chippenham Grammar School

1943           Starts draughtsman’s apprenticeship at Spencers, Melksham

1944           Elder brother Leslie, who is a serving airman in the RAF, is killed over Germany, aged 21.

1945           Campaigns for the Melksham Labour candidate during the General Election.

1948           Moves to London to work at Huwood Mining Machinery, joining Spencer’s colleague, George Stratton

1949           Joins the Communist Party

1950           Marries “Jaki” Manley, former wife of Michael Manley, who later becomes Jamaican Prime Minister

1951           Visits East Berlin for World Peace Congress and is arrested by US military police.

1953           Joins protests in Paris in support of Algerian independence from France

1960           Meets a group of Cuban revolutionaries while on a visit to Prague

1962           Elected regional official of the Draughtmens' and Allied Technicians’ Association (DATA), and posted to Liverpool, responsible also for Northern Ireland, and from 1965, Republic of Ireland

1963           Ken leads first strike – a walkout in Harland and Wolff, Northern Ireland. Shortly after helps organise strike at Plessey, Liverpool where Len Formby is the convener

1966           Marries Tess Gill

1968           First child Joe is born

                   Leaves Liverpool for London

Elected deputy general secretary of DATA and takes up position as Editor of the journal at union’s head office

1969           Second child Tom is born

Spearheads campaign against Barbara Castle’s industrial relations bill, In Place of Strife.

Visits Cuba with other trade unionists, including AEU General Secretary Hugh Scanlon. This is the first of several visits to the Caribbean island.

1970           Visits North Vietnam on TUC delegation at the height of the war.

Spearheads trade union involvement in the campaign to free African American civil rights activist Angela Davis, who he later meets when she visits London following her release.

1974          Third child Emma is born.

Becomes General Secretary of DATA’s successor TASS

With 7 million votes is elected to the TUC’s General Council.

Leads the struggle against the Labour government's incomes policy and attempts to restrict collective bargaining rights.

1976           Tells TUC Woman’s Conference that Britain was still a 'socially backward' country because of gender pay inequality

1979           Speaks on behalf of TUC following the 15,000-strong march in honour of anti-nazi campaigner Blair Peach, killed by police during a demonstration against the NF in Southall, according to witnesses.

1981           Becomes a member of the Commission for Racial Equality where he remains until 1987

1982           Speaking on behalf of General Council at TUC Congress, Ken warns against racial prejudice within trade unions, saying that black workers would form their own trade unions if prejudice prevented them from being elected to union posts

Early 80s   TUC Race Relations Committee established thanks in large part to the lobbying efforts of Ken and his union.

1984           Ken and TASS assist NUM during the Miners Strike, with union facing sequestration under Thatcher’s new laws banning solidarity action

Becomes chair of the People's Press Printing Society, the cooperative which publishes The Morning Star newspaper

1985           TASS demerges from the AUEW

                   Cathy Massiter, a former MI5 officer, reveals in a Channel 4 documentary that the security services burgled Ken’s home to plant a bugging device. This was confirmed in Peter Wright's book Spycatcher.

1985           Expelled from the Communist Party of Great Britain after rejecting calls by the “Eurocommunist” leadership to dismiss Morning Star editor Tony Chater and failing to support the party’s candidates to the management committee

1985/6       Becomes President of the TUC

1988           On Ken’s initiative, TASS guarantees deposit on Wembley Stadium to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s birthday.

Becomes joint general secretary with Clive Jenkins of Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union (MSF), a merger of TASS and ASTMS, which, following further mergers, becomes Amicus then Unite.

1989           Plays central role in establishing the Institute of Employment Rights, providing the first donation, office space and seconding current director Carolyn Jones from TASS legal department

1990           Meets Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow

1992           Retires from MSF and full-time work

1993           Plays key role in the founding of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign in the UK, becoming its first chair

1994/5       Meets Cuban President Fidel Castro for the first time on a visit to the island

1997           Marries Norma Bramley

2003           First grandchildren, Francesco and Tendo are born

2005           Third grandchild, Alessandro is born

2006           Fourth (step) grandchild Isabella is born

2008           Retires as chair of Cuba Solidarity Campaign

Mar 2009   Ken makes his last public speech at the launch of his book of caricatures, Hung Drawn and Quartered

May 2009   Ken dies, aged 81


See Ken talk about his life and other video clips of Ken

Read an interview with Rodney Bickerstaffe reflecting on Ken and his life