Brian Laughton obituary

Richard Laughton
·2-min read

My father, Brian Laughton, who has died aged 86, was a campaigner for the rights of shipping workers and was central in the international trade union fight against so-called “flags of convenience”, used by some owners as a means to circumvent labour standards. He was also a lifelong cycling enthusiast.

Born in London to Amy Laughton (nee Forder), a dinner lady, and her husband, Alfred, an electrician, Brian and his siblings, Graham and Cynthia, were evacuees during the war, spending time in Cumbria and Yorkshire. His father – also an enthusiastic cyclist – died when Brian was only nine years old.

After leaving Haberdashers’ Aske’s grammar school, near New Cross, south-east London, aged 16, he joined Deinhards wine merchants. Becoming London junior sprint champion in 1951, he was invited to ride in the Olympic trials that year. He left Deinhards to do his national service, during which he was part of the RAF winning team in the 1954 inter-services track competition. He then took on odd jobs between cycling trips to Denmark and Germany, where he raced extensively. He was selected to join the Olympic track team in 1960 as a reserve.

In 1959 he joined the International Transport Workers Federation of trade unions, initially as an office assistant. From this role he assumed increasing responsibility for dealing with issues arising from “flags of convenience” which enable ship owners to register their vessels in countries with, among other things, minimal labour standards.

In 1969 Brian visited the Greek-owned, Liberian-flagged Good Fortune in the port of London. He was deeply moved by seeing the awful conditions for the Ethiopian crew and set about trying to make a difference. He soon became head of the ITF’s special seafarers’ department. Under his stewardship, this department had a number of important successes against ship owners in court. He was instrumental in winning legal precedents that established union rights for shipping crew, securing underpayment claims of tens of millions of dollars a year, which continue to this day.

He retired in the early 1990s after having heart valve replacement surgery and was able to spend the subsequent years enjoying more time with family, and still cycling. He helped to run Catford Cycling Club, which he loved, and in later years met regularly with old club mates and rivals at the Pedal Club in London.

Brian married Kathleen Fuller in 1966. She survives him, along with their children, Nick and me, and grandchildren, Benji, Nate, Tallulah, Inigo and Cicely.