Civil Service trade union leader who took on Militant Tendency and made an enemy in Arthur Scargill
Daily Telegraph – 16 January 2014
Kate Losinska, who has died aged 89, was a scourge of Left-wing extremism in the trade unions, fighting and ultimately winning a desperate battle for control of the Civil and Public Services Association, the largest Civil Service union, of which she was three times president. Her marriage to the Polish air ace Stanislaw Losinski made her a staunch opponent of Communism, but within the CPSA she faced the Trotskyist Militant Tendency. Militant was disrupting the social security computer centre on Tyneside, and aimed to paralyse Whitehall. CPSA members (more than 200,000 at its peak) were junior civil servants, relatively few of whom could earn promotion, and thus prey to malcontents. But in Kate Losinska the militants had met their match.
A determined redhead from Croydon who had joined the civil service at 17, she pulled together a coalition to fend them off and – after Militant captured the CPSA's 37-strong executive – to force them out again. When in 1988 she engineered a clean sweep of the executive's Militant majority, she declared:
"Now I can retire with a glow in my heart."
For much of her presidency, she had an ally in Alistair Graham, the union's general secretary, who was forced out in 1986 after what she called "a long-running campaign of political spite". Militant tried everything to stop her; the Conservative MP Julian Lewis told the Commons she had been "attacked, beaten and tripped downstairs".
A member of the TUC general council until Militant blocked her renomination, she had no truck with fellow-travelling colleagues. When Arthur Scargill, visiting Russia in 1983, praised the Soviet way of life, she erupted:
"If he had been a Russian in Britain and had gone home after saying similar things, he would have been put in a psychiatric hospital."
Scargill was her bête noir after he attacked the free Polish trade union, Solidarity. Kate Losinska chaired the Solidarnosc Foundation, and after the fall of communism was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of Polonia Restituta. (Her husband, serving with the Polish Air Force, then in bombers with No 301 Squadron, was awarded Poland's highest military decoration and a DFC). Kate Losinska had an autocratic streak which led dissident Right-wingers to form a rival slate in the 1986 CPSA elections; the weakened executive fell next year to Militant. Embarrassingly for some, she chaired the Trade Union Committee for European and Transatlantic Understanding, funded by the US Congress and NATO.
She was born Kathleen Mary Conway on 5 October 1922 in Croydon; her father was a soldier. From Selhurst Grammar School she entered the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. After 40 years as a civil servant and union member, she was elected CPSA president in 1979, and the next year chaired the Council of Civil Service Unions, negotiating for 750,000 staff. At the end of her first three-year term she stepped down to vice-president, being succeeded by Kevin Roddy, prime mover of the disruption in Newcastle. In 1983 she returned, defeating Roddy. Her priority was to block, with Graham, moves to affiliate the traditionally non-partisan CPSA to the Labour Party.
However, Kate Losinska supported strikes against Margaret Thatcher's barring of the unions from GCHQ, and blamed Tory policies for the narrowness of her re-election in 1984, complaining that they "give moderation a bad name". She struggled to contain an executive which had to be stopped by Treasury legal action from becoming the first union to call out its members without a ballot, after one was required by law. Recaptured by Militant in 1987, the executive began appointing the Tendency's activists as full-time officials at the most vulnerable sites: the DHSS and Department of Employment.
In the run-up to the 1987 general election CPSA members voted by 56–44 per cent to hold strikes over pay. She supported their protest, so was furious when the far Left used the occasion to undermine Graham's successor, John Ellis. The executive cut Ellis's salary and took back his union car before she and Ellis regained full control. In retirement, Kate Losinska saw the CPSA merge with two other unions to form the Public & Commercial Services Union (PCS), under firmly Left-wing leadership. In recent years she lived in Co Limerick. She was appointed OBE in 1986. Kate Conway married Stanislaw Losinski in 1942; he died in 2002, and she is survived by their son.
Kate Losinska. Born 5 October 1924, died 16 October 2013