A TRADE union activist at the forefront of a fight to save hospital jobs threatened by then prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s has been given a lifetime achievement award.
Maureen Bickle joined the National Union of Public Employees (Nupe), now Unison, back in 1970.
At that time, the mother of eight had just returned to work as a domestic assistant at a Newcastle hospital to help her and late husband Hugh feed their growing family.
Her trade union zeal was ignited after she was sacked for missing a single day at work. She appealed against that decision and was duly reinstated.
Inspired by her success, she went on to be elected as a shop steward with Nupe.
Mrs Bickle, of Glasgow Road, Jarrow, said: “At the time, my children were getting a bit older and going to school and later on to university.
“I took on the job and was unfairly sacked for taking some time off to look after one of them.
“I was a bit quieter in those days, but I felt I had been treated unfairly and fought the decision.”
Mrs Bickle was presented with the Ian Daley Award at the annual meeting of Unison’s South Tyneside branch for her outstanding contribution to its work over the years.
Mr Daley, a former regional convenor and chairman for Unison, was on hand to present the award.
One of Mrs Bickle’s proudest memories came in 1984 while Baroness Thatcher was attempting to introduce a swathe of changes set to lead to hundreds of job losses at hospitals across Tyneside.
She said: “It was a big issue at the time. Thatcher was pushing to have hospital laundry, domestic and catering services put out to contract, and we went on strike.
“In the end, we had to adjust our hours, but we kept our jobs.”
Rising through the ranks in the union, she was at various times a district representative, senior steward, secretary and treasurer before her retirement at the age of 65 in the early 1990s.
She added: “There was a lot of work involved. At one point, we were looking after members in 42 hospitals, getting taxis to meet members at night and then being back at work the following afternoon.”
Mrs Bickle, who oversaw cleaning at Newcastle University’s Medical School for many years, remains involved with the union as chairman of its South Tyneside local government retired members’ branch.
The group meets once a month at St Gregory’s Church Hall at The Nook in South Shields.