Mary Turner: Tributes paid to Kilburn’s GMB union president

Mary Turner. Photo credit: Simon Cooper/PA Wire

Mary Turner. Photo credit: Simon Cooper/PA Wire - Credit: PA

A trade union “trailblazer” from Kilburn whose role as a dinner lady in Brent was to spearhead free school meals for children, has died.

GMB president Mary Turner receiving a temporary tattoo from Camden tattooist Naresh, to mark the tat

GMB president Mary Turner receiving a temporary tattoo from Camden tattooist Naresh, to mark the tattoo and piercing industry's union, the TPI, joining the GMB. Photo credit: Fiona Hanson/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Mary Turner, a long standing president of the GMB union and executive member of the Labour Party, has been described by peers as a “giant of the movement”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn joined those paying tribute and said: “I’m sad to hear of the death of my friend Mary Turner. Mary was such a great campaigner for people.

“She paved the way for so many women in the union movement and encouraged others to speak out. I send my condolences to Mary’s family and her extended family at the GMB union. RIP Mary.”

Born in Tipperary, she grew up in northern England before settling in Kilburn.

She was married to Denny Turner for 59 years who passed away in 2015.

Always a trade unionist, she started work at the age of 16 first joining the Tailor and Garment Workers Union when she worked at Jackson’s Tailors on Oxford Street.

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She then served as Mother of Chapel in the print industry before taking time off to raise her children.

In 1970 she returned to work part–time as a dinner lady in Brent and quickly set about organising the female workers who were poorly paid, untrained and treated badly.

Seeing hungry children and the stigma of those who had to queue separately for free meals at school, she campaigned and later became instrumental in ensuring free school meals for all children became Labour party policy.

Her lifelong passion defending people included feeding young marchers during the people’s March for Jobs in the 1980s, fighting the National Front, and campaigning against low wages.

In 1997 Mary was elected as president of GMB, the only woman out of 40 executive members, and has been re-elected into the position every year since.

She chaired the Labour Party executive committee in 2004 and in 2010, was made an MBE, which was followed by a CBE earlier this year for political service.

Union members said she had been ill for some time.

Tim Roache, GMB general secretary said: “The word giant is sometimes overused but in the case of Mary she really was a true giant of our movement.

“Mention the name Mary Turner and people will smile and say she had that unique blend of fighting spirit mixed with care and compassion.

“She has left this world having made a real difference to people’s lives, that’s something we are all proud of and that GMB will never forget.

“Our thoughts and love are with Mary’s family, whom she loved so very much.”

An online book of condolences is due to be launched today. Did you know or work with Mary in Brent? Email or call 020 7433 0134.