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British Labor Union Leader Jack Jones Dies

Jack Jones, a union leader who became a household name in Britain through his battles to secure better rights for workers, has died, he was 96.

LONDON (AP) -- Jack Jones, a union leader who became a household name in Britain through his battles to secure better rights for workers, has died, his son said Wednesday. He was 96.

Mick Jones said his father died of unidentified natural causes in Peckham, London, on Tuesday.

As general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union from 1969 to 1978, Jones was regarded as one of Britain's most influential labor leaders in an era before Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher heavily reduced the power of trade organizations.

"He had all the care he could possibly want," the labor leader's son said. "He was active until the very end and had a good innings," Mick Jones said, using an expression known to all cricket players.

Jack Jones was born the son of a dock worker in Liverpool, northern England, and left school at the age of 14 to become an apprentice engineer. He quickly involved himself in union activities and Labour Party politics, and he won election as a shop steward with the Transport and General Workers' union.

In the late 1930s, Jones joined the international brigades in the Spanish Civil War, fighting against Gen. Francisco Franco's forces.

"He was a passionate internationalist showing raw courage on the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War," said Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, an umbrella organization that represents Britain's labor unions. "After his working life as a trade unionist, he became a champion for pensioners, holding ministers to account without fear or favor and urging governments to deliver dignity to the elderly."

After returning from Spain, Jones served as a city council lawmaker in Liverpool for the Labour Party. He also worked his way through the labor union movement, taking a number of senior posts in the Transport and General Workers' Union.

"He was one of the finest men I ever met. Everything he said, he felt, he believed," ex-Labour Party Cabinet minister Tony Benn told the British Broadcasting Corp.

Jones famously opposed a clamp down on labor union work in the early 1970s, and later used the threat of a national dock strike to win an inquiry into working conditions at Britain's ports.

His labor union work won Jones wide public recognition and he became a frequent visitor to London's Downing Street, often negotiating with ministers over so-called beer and sandwich sessions -- so named after the traditional fare served during such discussions.

Following his retirement, Jones snubbed an invitation to take a seat in the House of Lords.

"I refused to go to the Lords. I always said it was proof positive that there is life after death. It's a totally undemocratic institution," Jones said in an interview.

Jones instead devoted his energies to campaigning for pensioners' rights.

"He truly was a leader of working people," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in a statement. "All of us who were personal friends of Jack will miss his advice, his courage and his inspiration. My thoughts are with his family."

Jones is survived by Mick Jones and another son.