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Barry Johnson: Dedicated trade unionist and fighter for the rights of the unemployed

(1931–2020)

BARRY JOHNSON, former president of Chesterfield and District Trades Union Council and trustee of Derbyshire Unemployed Workers Centres died this week after a long illness.  

Barry, who originated from Hucknall, was involved in politics from an early age, as his father had been blacklisted from the pits after the 1926 dispute, while his mother was active in the Unemployed Workers Movement of the 1920s and 1930s. 

He was an enthusiastic trade unionist throughout his working life. As an activist in Usdaw he was a member of Notttingham Trades Council for many years. He was an active and leading member of the Communist Party of Great Britain from 1956.

Barry worked at the Chesterfield College from the mid-1970s, where he developed the Trade Union Studies Unit, until early retirement in 1991, when he moved to live in Chesterfield.  

As a delegate from the College Lecturers Union he became president of the Chesterfield and District Trade Union Council, helping to establish the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centres based in the town.  

He also served on the regional executive of the Midlands TUC for an extended period. He was an accomplished orator, having the experience as a young man of drawing an audience while standing on an orange box in Nottingham’s Slab Square.  

Many people will remember Barry’s enthusiastic and uplifting performances as the master of ceremonies at Chesterfield’s May Day celebrations during the 1980s and ’90s.  

He stood down as a matter of principle when he retired from work, insisting that the president should be active in the workplace.  

Barry had a long association with the mining industry, and gave unstinting support to the miners during the 1984-85 strike.  

He worked tirelessly during the strike in support of the miners both at Linby in Nottinghamshire near his home, and in Derbyshire where he worked.   

On retirement he took the time to study for an MA in local history at Leicester University and produced two short books, one on the General Strike in Mansfield, and a study of the operation of the “butty system” in the local coalmines.  

He spent many years researching for a PhD, but finally his illness prevented him from completing that project.

Barry also played an important role in starting the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Labour History Society, serving as chair.  

His continued support for the Unemployed Workers Centres was crucial and he served on both regional and national committees, gaining the respect of people throughout the country. 

Barry also took an active part in the secular humanist movement, having been a founder member of the Sheffield Humanist Society and serving on its committee for several years.

On his 80th birthday a celebration event was held in the Winding Wheel with performers from far and wide taking part, the proceeds going to the UWC, at his request.

Throughout his long illness right up to his death, his partner, Hilary read the Morning Star to him every day.

A memorial meeting will be taking place at 11am at the Winding Wheel Ballroom, Chesterfield, on Monday February 17. Please ring Hilary on 01246 270-628 if you wish to attend so that catering arrangements can be made.

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