Bill Morris was born in Bombay, Jamaica in 1938 and lived with his parents (his mother was a domestic science teacher, his father a part-time policeman) in a small rural village, Cheapside, Manchester, Jamaica. He was educated at nearby Mizpah School where his ambition was to play cricket for the West Indies.
His plans to attend a prestigious agricultural college had to be rethought in 1954, when he joined his recently widowed mother in Britain, living in the Handsworth district of Birmingham.
The cultural differences were considerable – as was the weather – but he coped with the snow and the rain and started work at the Birmingham engineering company, Hardy Spicers, attending day-release courses in engineering skills at Handsworth Technical College. He later married and had two sons, Garry and Clyde, and now has two grandchildren, Una and Rohan. His wife, Minetta, died in 1990.
Morris’s trade union life began in 1958 when he joined the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G). He was elected a shop steward at Hardy Spicers in 1963 and the following year he was involved in his first major industrial dispute, over the issue of trade union recognition.
He held a wide range of elected positions within the T&G, including membership of its governing body, the General Executive Council. He also took advantage of the T&G’s considerable education programme, learning about trade unions, labour history and industrial law and health and safety.
He was appointed a full-time T&G Officer in 1973, as Nottingham/Derby District Organiser, and later as Northampton District Secretary. In 1979 he was appointed National Secretary for the Passenger Services Trade Group, responsible for leading national negotiations in the bus and coach industries.
He became Deputy General Secretary in 1986 and, as a result of a change in the law, was confirmed in the position by postal ballot four years later. His industrial duties included executive responsibility for the union’s four transport sectors, the car industry, energy and engineering and white collar workers. He was also responsible for the union’s educational activities, equal opportunities and development of policies and services for women and young members.
In 1991, Morris was elected General Secretary of the T&G by a postal ballot of members. He was the first Black general secretary of a trade union and arguably one of the most influential black people in Britain. But he made it clear he did not wish to be known or judged as a black General Secretary: as he said at the time of his election:
“I am not the Black candidate, rather the candidate who is black.”
In 1995 he was re-elected to the post of General Secretary.
Morris served on a wide range of national bodies including the Advisory Councils of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), and was appointed to the Economic and Social Affairs Committee of the European Union.
For a number of years he was a member of the Labour Party’s Conference Arrangements Committee and for ten years he was a member of the Commission for Racial Equality.