To say that that the late John Onslow (1922-2008) was an old fashioned trade unionist is intended as a compliment. He led the Town Hall’s GMB branch in the days when Labour was Labour, the party of the people, and the Tories were just there for the toffs. In fact, for most of John’s life the Tories were not there: not only did the Party have no political representatives in the Borough for decade after decade, but they were seen off even when they tried to enter the fray. A lone Tory once stood for election in the old Lansbury ward and received just 24 votes, which was then the lowest vote ever received by a Tory.
A representative of ordinary working men and women, John would tell the Town Hall Administration if they were doing wrong by their workforce or the community – and would expect the politicians then to put matters right. This worked well when there was a responsive Labour Administration in the Town Hall but became harder during the long years of the Thatcher and Major Tory Governments of the 80s and 90s, when local politicians felt constrained by the financial and political constraints the government was placing on them.
Nonetheless, John continued to command respect from his GMB members and from the wider labour movement. Come each selection time, a queue of Labour hopefuls would form outside his door as various would-be candidates sought his endorsement and that of the GMB branch.
Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman has now ensured John Onslow’s name lives on by renaming the Council’s One Stop Shop in Bow, locally known as Gladstone Place, “John Onslow House”. Mayor Rahman unveiled a plaque in John’s honour at a ceremony attended by the trade unionist’s family and friends.
Mayor Rahman said: “John Onslow made a valuable contribution to this borough, and the lives of people working here. Renaming this building in his memory signifies the legacy John left and will ensure his commitment to Tower Hamlets and its people is remembered for years to come.”
John’s son, Paul Onslow, said: “I would like to thank Mayor Rahman and the council for endorsing the renaming of this building in memory of my father; it’s an overwhelming and humbling gesture. My father had a tenacious appetite for justice and embarked on a selfless crusade to help other people. Our spirits will be lifted each and every time we pass the building.”
The One Stop Shop at John Onslow House is one of four in the borough which provide information and support to residents on a range of areas including benefits, housing, council tax, social services and parking. For more information please visit www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/onestopshop or call 020-7364 5020.