Mohammed Taj is the first Asian and Muslim trade unionist to be elected President of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
At the age of 21, Taj became a bus driver and was introduced to union work, after which he became involved with the Transport and General Workers’ Union.
He received death threats when he began to investigate complaints that Asian workers had to pay bribes to corrupt union officials and managers before they could gain employment on the buses.
Not one for backing down, Taj was determined to uncover the truth and fight the injustice. He explains: “In those days you were talking about paying your first eight weeks of your salary to a middleman.
“I persuaded people to talk and said ‘look it’s important we break the scandal.”
As a result of his work into unjust practices throughout the company, there was a court case and those found guilty were sent to prison.
Now, commenting on how it felt to win the election and take on one of the UK’s most important jobs, Taj said: “Its’ a really proud moment for me, as someone who has made it through the ranks from shop floor level.”
When asked how he felt to become the first Asian and Muslim President of the TUC, Mr Taj said: “I’m a worker first and a trade unionist who happens to be a Muslim.
“I want to show people that anyone can succeed. I came to England in 1966 not being able to speak a word of English; I went to an immigrant centre for three months then onto Bradford College to study.
“If I can do it, then so can you. Don’t give up, keep fighting, keep trying and you will succeed!”
Outlining what he hoped to achieve as President of the TUC, Taj said: “In my twelve months as President I would like to help lower the barriers to racism. I believe that one of the best way to break down racial barriers is the place of work.”
Taj studied at the Trade Union Centre at Bradford College and later went on to teach the courses and is an avid supporter of the College.
He gives credit to the Head of Trade Union Studies, Steve Davison and Bradford College Lecturer Bill Morgan-Cooper with encouraging him in his union work during his early involvement.
Commenting on the newly elected President, Steve Davison, Head of Trade Union Studies at Bradford College said: “I’m absolutely delighted, both for the TUC and for Taj personally.
“Taj is one of life’s really good guys.
“His story is both a Bradford story of an ordinary person overcoming the odds to reach the top - and a story of courageously fighting racism.
“He has not been poisoned by it and has been able to make the breakthrough to represent people regardless of their skin colour, religion and their beliefs - and that I think sums up Mohammed Taj!”
In 1982 Mr Taj was elected as a T&G’s shop steward at the company. Taj elaborating further said: “When I first stood, 70% of the members here were white at the time, so getting elected was a bit of a milestone because there was this perception that wherever there were white workers, you were not likely to succeed.” Ten years later he became a worker director for the whole of West Yorkshire.
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 committee, and is a long serving member of the Executive Council of the union. Mr Taj has been on the TUC’s General Council since 2001.