Obituary for Leif Mills


Ex TUC chairman who played a key role in the boom of the white collar union

Leif Mills, a Balliol graduate who, to his everlasting shame, narrowly missed out on an Oxford rower, was an unlikely figure to be elected president of the TUC and to regale his general council with Greek and Latin signs and humorous interjections for a decade. With a Briar in hand, Mills, who died at the age of 84, played his picture as a pipe smoker and beer drinker.

He had a tap built in his office as chairman of the Covent Garden Market Authority (1998-2005) and frequently met with market porters for an early morning pint. He was, however, also a severe and respected leader of the Party, headed by the National Union of Bank Employees (Nube), later by the Banking, Insurance and Finance Union, and for 24 years as general secretary (1972-96). He entered as a research officer in 1960 and became deputy general secretary just as the union of workers underwent immense growth. Union membership was becoming attractive to professionals, including conservative bank workers.

In particular, Nube found himself in dispute with the fast-growing Research, Management and Managerial Workers Association (ASTMS) of Clive Jenkins, which attracted numerous membership groups and plumbed the financial sector.

It also had to contend against the existing associations of bank workers, which were favoured by boards of directors that refused to accept Nube in turn. Against this backdrop, when the Trades Union Congress ordered its members not to register under the Industrial Relations Act of the Heath government, which was meant to control unions more closely, Mills was elected Nube’s general secretary. Nube opted to register for its specific membership and was excluded from the TUC, losing its defense against the poaching of members by other unions. When it successfully applied for re-entry after Labour abolished the statute, it was voted against, among others, by its two left-wing competitors, ASTMS and MSF, the Manufacturing, Research and Finance Union. Meanwhile, the area at issue was insurance firms, but Mills resisted the TUC’s pressure to offer ASTMS the field.

Mills became a respected member of the TUC General Council, part of a close-knit community of so-called progressives, and known as someone who punched above the weight of his relatively small union. In 1979, Nube renamed itself Bifu – the Banking, Insurance and Finance Union – and maintained its insurance members. He set out his stance in his presidential address to the 1995 conference:’ Our job is to press and convince those who have influence, not to take power for ourselves.’

Mills said they resemble World War I soldiers in a philosophy session about what unions are for: “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here.” He was urged to join the fledgling Social Democratic Party when the Labour Party split in the 1980s, but Mills, a former parliamentary candidate, remained rock solid with Labour. Nevertheless, he opposed the non-cooperation policy of the TUC with the Thatcher government and had private discussions with the government regarding its handling of the unions. In the 1980s, his appointments included membership of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and the Pay Review Body of the Armed Forces. It was for his service to labor relations and education that he was made a CBE in 1995. In 1989, for the historically conservative brewing industry, he became an unlikely but perhaps predictable hero. He was a lone voice of dissent against a report from the Monopolies Commission which proposed restricting the ownership of pubs by large breweries. Hailed as’ the only real customer of our goods by one brewer; everyone else is a gin-and-tonic guy,’ Mills argued that the reforms could lead to reduced competition and less option for the consumer. He called for vindication four years later, claiming, “There will be fewer pubs, higher prices, less consumer choice and less competition. “He was, among other positions, a trustee of the Civic Trust, a governor of the London Business School and a council member of the Consumer Association. Victor Mills, a clerk at Shell, and Bergliot (ne Strom-Olsen), a Norwegian woman, was born in London to Mills. The family lived in Raynes Park, in London’s southwest.

The Kingst attended Leif


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