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Remembering John Clegg – tireless welfare campaigner, defender of migrants and the poor

TRIBUTES have been paid to John Clegg, a labour and trade-union activist in north-west England who died on November 7 at the age of 70.

He was involved in a wide range of labour movement and community organisations from the early 1980s to the time of his death.

His work included involvement in the establishment of Manchester Gay Centre and support for the founding of the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, holding officer roles in Greater Manchester Unite Community branch and Manchester Trades Union Council, fighting against the selling of South Manchester’s council housing, and helping to found Manchester Unemployed Workers’ Centre.

Following the Tories’ attack on legal aid for people unable to afford lawyers, and the nationwide closure of free legal-advice centres, he was involved in an Access to Advice campaign and a campaign to save South Manchester Law Centre.

The campaign, on which he worked from 2010 to 2014, led to the founding of a new law centre for Greater Manchester.

Greater Manchester Law Centre has today gained a nationwide reputation. 

Among its many achievements is the winning of more than £2 million in benefits which were wrongly denied to people in need.

One of the law centre’s four patrons is actor and Morning Star ambassador Maxine Peake.

Clegg saw the law centre as both a campaign against legal-aid cuts and as a way of giving unemployed workers and tenants access to legal advice.

Throughout his life as an activist he worked with trade unions and tenants, including during his time as a trustee of the law centre from 2015-19.

He was a fervent campaigner against benefit sanctions and the inhumane universal-credit system which affected so many people in need. 

He believed that the growth of foodbanks and similar charitable enterprises was no challenge to the government’s policies of deliberately induced poverty, racism and homelessness.

He established links with local people and organisations who were taking action at grassroots level.

His ability and commitment to bringing a wide range of people together was evident in all he did.

“His contribution to committee discussions, his promotion of the law centre to other groups, the breadth and depth of his campaigning history and experience, and most of all his personal friendship, will be sadly missed,” said John Nicholson, chairman of Greater Manchester Law Centre.

He was vice-president of Manchester Trade Union Council and in 1984 was elected as an “anti-cuts” Labour councillor to Manchester City Council. 

As a councillor, he became involved in equal-opportunities work, and set up an anti-deportations working party which sought to support all anti-deportation campaigns in Manchester, and especially the Viraj Mendis Defence Campaign from 1985-89.

In parallel, following Labour manifesto commitments in the mid-1980s, a council working party was also devoted to establishing an immigration welfare centre, later to become the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit. Today it defends people facing immigration and deportation problems.

John was an instigator in establishing Manchester Gay Centre and the Manchester Council’s Aids working group.

His funeral takes place at 4pm today, Friday November 20, at Stockport crematorium, but due to coronavirus restrictions few will be able to attend.

His family have suggested that people wishing to show their respects line Kingsway between 3pm and 3.30pm, observing social distancing, opposite his home at M19 1NG.

Friends and family would welcome the raising of banners and flags.

His coffin will be draped with the Manchester Trade Union Council banner.

John Clegg’s wife Mary died last year. They had been married for 50 years. He leaves two daughters, Melanie and Nicole, two grandchildren, three brothers and a sister.

Manchester TUC has set up a Facebook page for memories of, and tributes to, John Clegg. For more information visit manchestertuc.org.uk/johnclegg.

PETER LAZENBY

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