UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

RIP Sheena Grant MBE, Darts Champion and UNISON Activist

Family, friends, colleagues and comrades gathered at Aberdeen Crematorium yesterday to say a last farewell to Sheena Grant, Aberdeen University branch chair, long standing Higher Education activist, and recent Scottish representative on the UNISON NEC.

The service reflected Sheena’s last wishes, that her funeral should not be a time of sadness but a time of fun, as the Aberdeen University chaplain the Rev Easter Smart explained at the start of the service, after telling us that in her last days that Sheena had, as usual been more concerned about those who would be left after her, rather than herself.

Born in 1941 Sheena had the best education her parents could give her, before taking a variety of jobs in accountancy followed marriage and children in the mid sixties. After combining child minding for a long list of relatives and friends with bar work, twenty six years ago, Sheena thought that she would take a cleaning job with the university for a few months to tide her over until something better came along.

Her fiefdom was Marischal College, an institution where there was no doubt who ruled the roost. She died still a valued employee of the university, still taking pride in preparing for graduation ceremonies, and an active steward and trade unionist. She found working at the university a source of entertainment and pleasure, and she shared that with everyone she worked with; from her fellow cleaners, to those of the great and the good with which she shared a position on the University Court as the representative of the support workers. Did anyone else call the principal, Dunkiebaby? (Though she was usually careful where she said it)

Sheena lived her life to the full , and there were stories told of her love of parties, her pleasure and delight in the celebration of Christmas and all the shopping associated with it, particularly for Christmas decorations which adorned her home stood out both inside and out in the festive season. She was a champion darts player with the trophies to prove it.

But for her UNISON colleagues, Sheena will be remembered for her sense of fairness and her determination to secure justice for the workers that she represented, both with her employers within the university, and in her representative roles within Unison. The tributes paid to her by those she negotiated with were sincere and genuine: Sheena was known as a tough but fair negotiator, but woe betides the manager when Sheena thought the management got it wrong.

She played a major role in her branch and is described by her branch Secretary as “irreplaceable” in the part she played trying to ensure that the lofty concerns of academics did not overshadow those of support staff, taking the view that a professor could vanish for months at a time and no one could miss him, while a cleaner who failed to do the toilets in the morning could close a building.

It was a view that she brought into the Service Group executive and the NEC. Sheena was an uncompromising and resolute Aberdonian. She carried that working class perspective with her and with it, an uncanny common sense and an acute belief in the value of her members. She had integrity and understanding but she offered no ideological analysis- just a life time of experience of living at the sharp end, and an understanding of how the union could be used to make life better for her members. That was why she was in the union, and it was what she expected the union to do. The union is the loser from her death as we need more like her.

Sheena liked a Bacardi (despite all attempts to convert her to Havana Club) or a Baileys, a fag and a laugh with her friends. Having conquered cancer once, the subsequent recurrence conquered her. Still as the Rev Smart said, Sheena has just gone on to the next party, but is probably asking the chap-in-charge if his cleaners get the rates and conditions for the job, and he or she better have the right answer.

Jane Carolan.