East End’s workers’ champion Bill Wakeman dies

ONE of the traditional campaigners in London’s deprived East End who took on the might of the Town Hall and fought for the Working Class has died.

Tributes have been pouring in for trade union leader and ‘rebel’ former Tower Hamlets councillor Bill Wakefield, who died on Sunday after a long illness.

Bill was branch chairman of the National Union of Public Employees—now part of Unison—who stopped the council privatising school meals in the 1990s.

But not all his battles were successful. He failed to stop the authority closing down its direct labour force.

Yet he never gave up the struggle and often disrupted council meetings from the public gallery before eventually being elected himself as a Labour councillor—until he fell out with the party and eventually lost his seat.

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“Any council meeting wouldn’t be complete without Bill being carried out from the public gallery,” Tower Hamlets Unison chairman John McLoughlin told the East London Advertiser. “He objected to anything that would affect workers rights, always his own man, never following party line.”

Bill fell out with Labour when he voted against cuts to social services in 1998. He and seven other ‘rebel’ councillors were barred from standing for Labour at the next council elections. So he quit and ran as an independent candidate—but lost his seat.

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Fellow rebel councillor Bell Harris, who was also barred, said today: “Bill paid the price of fighting to protect the most vulnerable when we were barred by a Labour kangaroo court.

“He was an absolute maverick, the type we desperately need on the council and I’m sad at his loss.”

Yet even in retirement the seasoned campaigner from Bow continued the fight, as a member of Tower Hamlets Pensioners’ Forum.

Labour Party activist John Gray said on his blogsite two years ago: “He is a proper East End ‘face’ who would do what he thought was right—regardless of opposition.

“Bill was a strong supporter of the late Queen Mother and use to write to the East London Advertiser every year on her birthday to thank her for her support in the East End during the Second World War. This upset some folk—but no-one had the bottle to challenge him.”

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