Lord Rosser, trade unionist who negotiated the fallout from British Rail’s privatisation – obituary

Lord Rosser: general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (1989-2004) and chairman of Labour's National Executive Committee
Lord Rosser: general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (1989-2004) and chairman of Labour's National Executive Committee (1998-99) - ROGER HARRIS

Lord Rosser, who has died aged 79, was general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, the mainly railway clerical union, from 1989 to 2004; a key figure on the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and ultimately its chairman; and since 2004 a life peer.

Leading the TSSA, Richard Rosser – its second-longest-serving general secretary – campaigned against rail privatisation, then negotiated union recognition and terms of service with the plethora of businesses that took over from British Rail.

Starting work as a clerk with London Transport, he was quickly picked out as a mangerial high flyer. But his negotiating skills representing LT staff led the TSSA to offer him a full-time post at just 22; he stayed with the union 38 years, as assistant general secretary from 1982 and finally as general secretary – also serving on the TUC General Council.

Rosser was a Labour councillor in his native Hillingdon, and once stood for Parliament. From 1988 to 1998 he was a trade union representative on Labour’s NEC, supporting Neil Kinnock and John Smith as they returned the party to electability. For the year after Labour’s return to power under Tony Blair in 1997, he chaired the NEC – and the party’s 1998 Blackpool conference.

Created a life peer on Blair’s recommendation, Rosser concentrated while Labour was in government on his work with the prison service; he had been a magistrate since 1978, chairing the Uxbridge bench. In opposition from 2010, he was first a whip and then until 2015 a front bench spokesman in turn on defence, home affairs and transport.

Rosser was also a pillar of non-league football. A supporter of Uxbridge FC who spent a lifetime collecting programmes from matches all over the country, he became a vice-president of the Isthmian League in 2009, and president in 2019. He took a particular interest in the needs of disabled football supporters, as vice-president of Level Playing Field.

Isthmian League chair Nick Robinson lamented the loss of “a great ambassador, not just of the Isthmian League but for football in general”. On the Saturday after Rosser’s death, players for every Isthmian League club wore black armbands, with fans observing a minute’s silence or applause.

Richard Andrew Rosser was born on October 5 1944, the son of Gordon Rosser and the former Kathleen Moon. He was educated at St Nicholas Grammar School, Northwood, later taking an external London University degree in Economics.

He joined LT from school as an industrial relations clerk at Baker Street, and after three years was appointed PA to London Underground’s operating manager.

The TSSA made Rosser its research officer in 1966. From 1974 to 1982 he dealt with its London Midland region, eventually as divisional secretary. After seven years as asssistant general secretary, he was elected to lead the union in 1989, and re-elected seven years later.

Rosser began his involvement with the Labour Party as a branch secretary. From 1971 to 1978 he served on Hillingdon council, chairing its finance committee from 1974, and in that February’s general election he fought the new seat of Croydon Central, losing to the future Conservative cabinet minister John Moore by 1,314 votes.

From 2000 to 2009 he was a non-executive director on the Prison and Probation Service Management Board, and from 2003 chaired the audit committee of the National Offender Management Service.

Retiring from the TSSA, Rosser was created a life peer as Baron Rosser, of Ickenham, and was active in the Lords up to his death.

Richard Rosser married Sheena Denoon in 1973. She survives him, with their two sons and a daughter.

Richard Rosser, born October 5 1944, died April 10 2024