Weeks after the biggest coup of his career, Brumwell announced his retirement. He's come a long way in 12 years' service as general secretary of Britain's biggest construction union. He has revived the UCATT from chaotic infighting, a £3m-a-year financial deficit and niche creditability among employers and workers. "I saved the union," Brumwell told Building in an interview published in January. "I stopped the rot." At the end of his watch, he is leaving the union in good shape. He has built harmonious relations with employers and close links with the government, and as a result, established a powerful bargaining position.
Brumwell has been in construction since his late teens. Born the son of a miner in a small County Durham town, he first joined a union at the age of aged 15 while working as an apprentice joiner in a North-east shipyard. But what really turned him on to politics was the construction of the Ferrybridge C power station in the horrendous winter of 1963.
I’ve occupied this position for a brief moment in UCATT’s 175 years, and I’d like to think I’ve left the union a bit better than when I came into it
"It was my defining moment," he says. "The whole site got laid off because of the weather and they began to take people back the week after – but myself and another shop steward never got back on site. We got shafted. My attitude was, 'Well, the buggers aren't going to get away with that'." He was unemployed for months, living in a tiny caravan with his wife and their first child. But he fought back, and a friend wangled him some work – he became a union branch secretary, before rising to UCATT regional secretary for Yorkshire in 1974.
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