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Bradford bus driver Mohammad is now at the wheel of the TUC
A Bradford bus driver is now at the wheel of the powerful TUC after being elected its first Asian and Muslim president.
Mohammad Taj, of the Unite union based at First’s Bowling Back Lane depot, was chosen on the final morning of the 145th Congress.
And Mr Taj, who arrived from Pakistan aged 14 and unable to speak English, yesterday praised Bradford for aiding his astonishing rise to one of the UK’s most important jobs.
“I would say thank you to Bradford for giving me and my family education – we have all gone on to successful careers,” said Mr Taj, 61, who arrived from Mirpur in 1966.
“I went to school in Usher Street at what they used to call an “immigrant centre”, then on to Bradford College to do English for overseas students.
“I worked in textiles at James Tankard and Leigh Mills before a sales job at the old Brown, Muff and then became a bus conductor with Bradford City Transport in 1974.”
A year later, a then 21-year-old Mr Taj was old enough to become a bus driver and struck up a lasting friendship with conductor Richard Jowett – who introduced him to union work.
“There was a scandal involving Asian workers having to make cash payments in return for jobs. I wanted to do something about it and Richard took me to my first ever union meeting,” Mr Taj said.
He first got involved with the Transport and General Workers’ Union – now part of Unite – when he began to investigate complaints that Asian workers had to pay a bribe to corrupt union officials and managers before they could get work on the buses.
As a result of his work into unjust practices throughout the company, there was a court case and the guilty were sent to prison.
In 1982 Mr Taj was elected as the T&G’s shop steward at the company, and ten years later became a worker director for the whole of West Yorkshire. He sat on the company board when First was created after a buy-out by workers and management.
In the late 1980s unions were beginning to look at how they might do more to better represent workers from black and Asian communities.
Mr Taj was elected chairman of the T&G’s national race equality conference, and sat on the executive council of the union. Mr Taj has been on the TUC’s General Council since 2001.
Following the riots in Bradford in 1995, caused by long-running tensions between the police and local Asian youths Mr Taj served as part of the commission set up to look into the underlying causes of the violence.
But a year later he went back to being a bus driver and once again worked on many of the routes serving the towns and cities in West Yorkshire.
After his election as TUC President, he said: “I am proud to be the first Muslim and the first Asian President of the TUC.
“During my year as President I’m keen to reach out to trade unionists in the Arab world – in places like Tunisia, Egypt and Iraq – where people are living and working in extremely dangerous and unstable situations, and help them build, strong, independent and democratic unions.
“Protecting the NHS and campaigning against government policies – which have seen the increasing involvement of the private sector, and where more and more profit is being put before patient care – will also be one of my priorities.
“In the early 1960s my father came to the UK for treatment. He was suffering from TB, and couldn’t afford treatment back in Kashmir where we were living at the time. Quite simply the NHS saved my father’s life.”
Mr Taj is married with two children and three grandchildren and said his success could be copied by anyone: “Bradford is a city which has given me a chance to progress.
“And anyone can follow my path just by being positive, engaged and involved in everything.
“Just never accept ‘no’ as an answer.