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Death Of Tipperary Born Trade Unionist Mary Turner MBE. CBE.

It is regret we report the passing of Mrs Mary Turner, the long-standing president of the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trade Union [GMB Union] and British Labour Party executive member, who died on Wednesday last, July 19th 2017 at the age of 79 years.

Regarded as a giant within union circles, the former dinner lady from London had been ill since 2010, but still remained active at her post as President, chairing the GMB’s annual conference in Plymouth just last month.

Born Mary O’Brien in Co. Tipperary, Mrs Turner was educated here in Thurles. At the age of twelve years, her family made the move to northern England, and later to the Kilburn area of north west London, where she continued her education at Carlton Vale Secondary Modern in Kilburn.

She began work when she was just sixteen, at Jackson’s Tailors on Oxford Street as a trainee bookkeeper, also joining the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers. She married her husband Denny, just six weeks after they first met, spending 59 years together before his eventual death in 2015. During their marriage she took time out from work to bring up her two children, Denise and John, reverting back into employment as a dinner lady in Brent in 1970.

She recruited many of her colleagues into the General and Municipal Workers’ Union, hoping to improve their pay and conditions, while campaigning for free school meals for all pupils, having watched the stigma of some less well off students forced to queue separately for free meals.

Turner a renowned anti-fascist campaigner was active in the Labour Party, and engaged in a wide variety of political activities from the 1970’s onwards, including opposition to the National Front and in orchestrating and organising the catering for the People’s March for Jobs in 1983. In 1989, when some party members in Brent East tried to deselect Ken Livingstone, Turner was one of two candidates to stand against him, although ultimately Livingstone was comfortably reselected.  She was a candidate for the Labour nomination for the seat again in 2000, after Livingstone was expelled from the party, but on that occasion lost out to Paul Daisley.

She was elected to the National Executive Committee of the party in 1996, and was the Chair of the Labour Party in 2004. Turner was elected to the executive of the union, which eventually became the GMB, in 1983; initially being the only woman on the 40 person executive. In 1997, she was elected as the union’s President, and was re-elected every year thereafter.

Career:
1983 Elected to the CEC.
1988 Vice President of the GMB: elected by Congress.
1993 President of the GMB Public Services Section.
1995 Elected to NEC of Labour Party.
1997 President of the GMB Elected by Congress and re-elected in 1999, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017.
2002 Elected to Public Services International Executive.
2002 Elected as Vice Chair Labour Party (National Executive Committee).
2003 Elected as Chair of Labour Party (National Executive Committee).
2010 Received the MBE.
2010 Honorary President of British Dietetic Association (BDA).
2012 Received TUC Women’s Gold Badge.
2016 Received Special GMB Eleanor Marx Award.
2017 Received the CBE for political service.

Turner whose love was gardening and listening to the radio, was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 2010, and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire early in 2017.

Our thoughts here in Thurles are with Mary’s family at this time.

Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a h-anam dílis.

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