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Brenda Dean – an inspirational union woman

Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke remembers Brenda Dean
Tony Burke, Unite assistant general secretary, Thursday, March 15th, 2018

Brenda Dean (pictured below) who has died aged 74 was one of the most prominent women trade unionists of her generation.


Brenda Dean original
Born in Salford, she rose through the ranks of her trade union which became the print and paper workers’ union SOGAT, starting as an administration assistant in the union’s Greater Manchester Branch Office.

In 1971 she became full-time assistant branch secretary and then branch secretary of the SOGAT Greater Manchester branch which covered printing, papermaking and newspaper production.

She was the elected full time president of SOGAT between 1983 and 1985 and was elected the union’s General Secretary in 1985. She was also a member of the TUC General Council and the election of a woman as the leader of a prominent union meant she was very much in the public eye.

Murdoch dispute
It was during this period when she came to national prominence in the dispute with Rupert Murdoch who callously sacked 5,500 print workers in his attempt to break unions on Fleet Street in 1986. (See main picture – Brenda Dean addresses a packed union meeting).

Alongside the NGA she lead the year long dispute with Murdoch and the bitter experiences of the dispute coupled with the changes in printing technology lead SOGAT and the NGA to create one union for the printing industry, the GPMU, in 1991.


In the election for the post of General Secretary of the GPMU she was beaten by Tony Dubbins of the NGA and she became the GPMU’s Deputy General Secretary before being made a peer – she became Baroness Dean of Thornton-Le-Fylde.

Printing Charity
She kept her links with the printing industry, hosting events in parliament for the print industry and she was the President of the Printing Charity in 2017.



Through the Printing Charity she was also involved in the Print Futures Awards which assists young people with training and apprenticeships in the printing, publishing and media industries.



Long-standing retired SOGAT activist Ivy Smith commented that Brenda Dean came from a working class background to prominence as a trade union official when the leadership of the trade union movement was a man’s world.



“As well as a strong trade unionist and a great asset to SOGAT, Brenda was an early campaigner on many causes including women’s cancers and female genital mutilation and is respected for her achievements.”





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