David Basnett was the General Secretary of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers from 1973 until he retired in 1986. Serving also on the TUC general council for twenty years he was at the forefront of the union movement’s difficult relationship with the Wilson and Callaghan governments and then in the hostile early years of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership.
He was born at 1 Ivy Leigh L13, in 1924, the son of Andrew Basnett, a gas company employee and Mary Charlotte Kerr. Sadly his mother died shortly after his 9th birthday at this time the family had moved to the adjacent road, at 15 Hilberry Avenue L13. By the start of the war they had moved again, to 218 Mill Lane, Wavertree, his auntie, Ethel Basnett then being part of the household. He won a scholarship to attend Quarry Bank High School, being evacuated with the school to Wrexham in North Wales. After leaving school he secured a job as a bank clerk. During the war he served in the RAF, piloting Sunderland flying boats on Atlantic reconnaissance missions.
His father had been regional secretary of the NUGMW (and served as a Justice of the Peace) and in 1948, David Basnett took up a post with them as a regional organiser. He made steady progress in the union, becoming their first national education officer in 1955 and national industrial officer in 1960. In this post he was involved in a major dispute at Pilkington Glass Company in St Helens in 1970. It was his performance in negotiating a settlement of the dispute that proved to be his springboard to success in the 1973 election for General Secretary.
His period of tenure in the post saw a significant growth of the union via mergers with other unions, most notably the boilermakers. After retiring in 1986 he was made a life peer in 1987, taking the title Baron Basnett of Leatherhead.
Fellow Quarry Bank old boy Bill Rodgers said of Basnett that
he was “a decent man who nevertheless disappointed his friends at a critical
time for the Labour Party in the 1980’s”. [p.13 Fourth Among Equals. 2000].
There is footage of Basnett on YouTube dating from 1979 when along with fellow trade unionists Moss Evans and Terry Duffy he takes part in a discussion with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey, on the problems facing the Labour Government in the 'winter of discontent'.
The Basnett's home at the time of his mother's death in 1933.
The house the Basnett's had moved to before the outbreak of war in 1939
There is a comprehensive entry for Basnett in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
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