Obituary: George Henderson OBE, Trade union figure and campaigner, 78

George Henderson campaigned for workers' and pensioners' rights
George Henderson campaigned for workers' and pensioners' rights
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George Henderson OBE, a leading trade union figure and a campaigner for pensioners, has died, aged 78.

Mr Henderson was born on September 27, 1933, in Candlemaker Row. His father was killed during a field operation in the Second World War, leaving Mr Henderson’s mother Helen to bring up two children on her own.

Mr Henderson became the man of the house, aged 11, and while still at school he had a paper round, a milk round, worked for the local butcher and a grocer to boost the family budget.

Mr Henderson left school at 15 and served a five-year indentured apprenticeship to become a craftsman plasterer. In 1954, having finished his apprenticeship, he was called up to serve in Suez with the 1st Battalion Royal Scots Regiment.

On his return he became involved in union activities. He held various offices of the Scottish Plasterers Union, serving as branch secretary, chairman and executive council member before being elected a national organiser of the union age 29.

The Scottish Plasterers’ Union merged with the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G), forming a new Building Crafts Section and at the age of 35 Mr Henderson was promoted to national secretary of the Building Crafts Section, which involved him moving down to London.

As such he was among the “Group of Eight” construction industry leaders to meet with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to warn about the consequences of severe government cutbacks. Mr Henderson reportedly told the PM that “to the construction workers and thousands of other sufferers you are like a modern day ‘Nero’ fiddling while you are ruining the country”.

He was presented with the OBE by the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 1995 for his services to industrial relations and health and safety, although he always said his proudest possession was his award of his union’s Gold Medal.

Mr Henderson was the longest-serving member of the UK Construction Industry Training Board, and was chairman of its civil engineering committee.

A trustee of the T&G’s Retired Members Association, Mr Henderson became president after the death of Jack Jones. He was also a member of the national council of the National Pensioners Convention and chairman of the NPC in Scotland.

On his retirement, he moved back to Edinburgh and threw himself into working for pensioners. He stood as a candidate for the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party in the 2007 elections for the Scottish Parliament, polling more than 4000 votes in the Lothian constituency.

He is survived by his wife, Helen, son George, grand-daughters Hayley and Kelly, and great-grandsons Bailey and Crawford.