It was a fatal shooting in his native Ireland that gave north-east trade unionist Tommy Campbell his first experience of campaigning for change.
Mr Campbell, 60, has been a prominent trade unionist in Aberdeen for 34 years.
He said the incident – in which a man named Patrick Fee was shot dead in a council van in Enniskillen, County Fermangh, in 1978 – was where his career in the movement really began.
In a sit-down interview with the Evening Express, ahead of his retirement from Unite the union on May 24, Tommy – who has garnered a reputation for keeping local authorities in check – said: “He was shot dead in a council van on his way to work. It was my first day at work that same day and I was about 10 miles away near the border.
“We were travelling in a Transit van on to the building site. It was an unmarked van and we were conscious there were soldiers operating undercover in similar vehicles.
“We were concerned there was nothing on the side of our van and I wanted our organisation to put its name on the side – Enterprise Ulster – in big writing. I joined the union that day and said ‘we want this up’. I certainly don’t want to be shot and I don’t want my friends to be shot either in a mistake’.
“I think what had happened was the IRA unit were trying to shoot the driver, who was a part-time soldier, but the vans were all fairly similar so we didn’t want to get mistaken.
“I went to the foreman and said we wanted this and he said it was not going to happen. I said ‘it will because I will either get the spray cans myself or we’re not going to travel in the van’.
“That was my first sense of standing up. We took a stand and by the Thursday it was put up.”
While it was a health and safety issue which first got Tommy into trade unionism, he said the “seeds were already set” in his childhood days in Enniskillen.
He said: “I was always the type of person that was going to be standing on the frontline when something wasn’t right.
“My mum said ‘there was always that about you – even watching you playing with children, you always stuck up for somebody if something wasn’t right’.
“I challenged the bullies at school as well, having been bullied myself as a young boy.”
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After some time at Enterprise Ulster, a local government organisation set up by the Labour Government in the 1970s to try to provide work for people on both sides during the Troubles, Tommy lost his job in Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s cuts.
When applying for new jobs, Tommy discovered he had been “blacklisted” for his trade union work and kept getting knocked back from jobs, after “making a name for himself”.
So for two-and-a-half years he was unemployed, but put it to “good use” by getting involved in the local trades council and representing people down at the dole office when their benefits were stopped.
He said: “Then, because I was making a name for myself in Ireland as a kind of outspoken person against the violence, I applied for a job at the Ulster People’s College (in Belfast) which was an anti-sectarian unit set up in 1982.”
The funding for the unit came to an end, leading Tommy to apply for a job at the Aberdeen Unemployment Centre in 1985 – following his two brothers, who worked in the oil industry, to the Granite City.
He said: “When I came in, Jim Wyness, the former Lord Provost, was on the panel. There were six of them and they apologised for the fact there were six of them.
“They said ‘we hope you don’t feel intimidated’, and my retort to that was ‘six people sitting behind a table interviewing me not wearing masks and carrying guns ain’t going to intimidate me – and, even if you did, you still wouldn’t intimidate me’.
“Jim Wyness said he took a shine to me immediately because of my forthrightness.” Tommy said he was always a “union guy” and when a job came up in 1990 with the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) – predecessor to what would later become Unite – he snapped it up.
Two stand-out moments for the union chief – from more than three decades of trade union work in the city – are campaigning for equal pay strikes for female council workers in 2006 and the Back Home Safe campaign on helicopter safety.
He said: “There can’t be enough health and safety regulations, or as some people say, ‘red tape’.
“It’s not the red tape we’re worried about, it’s the red bloody bandages we see at the time of people’s injuries, and sadly sometimes, people’s deaths.
“All workers should be able to go to their work and come back home to their families.
“Having to go along and meet the families, I don’t call it the hard part of the job, I call it the sad part of the job. We’re there to provide support, and in some cases, provide justice for the families.”
In terms of what he has gained over his time as a trade unionist, Tommy said he has learned “complete faith” in working people, adding he has seen some “great acts of kindness and solidarity”.
Looking to the future, Tommy is planning to remain in the city with his partner Alison, and also wants to spend more time travelling to Ireland to see daughter Kelly, 35, and two grandchildren, Ethan, 12, and Lorcan, five.
However, he will also remain involved with the Aberdeen Trades Union Council and wants to pursue his keen interest in poetry.
He said: “I will miss the cut and thrust of the negotiations, and representing people who have been subject to bullying or victimisation, and being able to guide and support them.
“I’ve no doubt I’m making the right decision.
“I’ve spent 40 years working collectively ‘doing the we’.
“Now it’s all going to be ‘me time’, some time for myself now.
“But I’m not going into 100% retirement in that sense.
“I’m a citizen of Aberdeen and I’ll take an interest in this city’s affairs. I think Aberdeen is a great town.
“I love it for the fact there’s no sectarian history here. People have always treated me with great respect as an Irishman.
“However, although I see myself as Irish, I’m first and foremost an internationalist who just happens to be Irish.
“There is only one race and that’s the human race and I hope I have helped us work towards being a more humane race.”