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Emeritus Professor Vic Allen

Born in Hawarden in Flintshire, Vic Allen left school at fifteen to become an apprentice bricklayer. After service with the RAF during World War II he returned to the building industry, where he became involved with the Trades Unions movement, in which he quickly took a close and lively interest.

Vic took a BSc at the LSE (1949) and then combined trade union tutoring with a PhD at the LSE, published in 1954 as Power in Trade Unions, followed by two others written whilst he was a Nuffield Fellow at the LSE. In Trade Union Leadership he developed more fully his ideas about the engagement of the individual with the trade union, and the power structures of the labour movement. In Trade Unions and the Government he moved on to consider the relationship of the union with external power – the two themes that came to dominate his academic career and underpinned his later comparative work. Taken together, his three early works contributed much to the terms and agenda of the post-war debate on the academic study of industrial relations.

Vic took up a post at the University, as a Lecturer in Industrial Relations, in 1959, becoming Senior Lecturer in 1963, Reader in 1970 and Professor of the Sociology of Industrial Society in 1973. He was an accomplished teacher, able to communicate his enthusiasm for his subject to his students, and his own enthusiasm for working across departmental and academic boundaries was ahead of its time.

As Vic’s career at Leeds developed, his interests – and reputation – became increasingly international. He published widely on the working classes in tropical and Southern Africa, with a particular focus upon mining unions and workers. His work was translated into French, Swedish and Serbo-Croat. As well as visiting fellowships at the University of Kentucky, he lectured and attended conferences in France, Sweden and, in particular, Germany and the USSR, publishing a major comparative study in 1982 on the coal industries of the USSR and the USA.

Throughout his career, Vic challenged convention and received wisdom, setting out his academic manifesto in his inaugural professorial lecture as ‘non-conformity is a University’s lifeblood;’ rather than operate as an ivory tower, he believed that educational institutions should be rooted in their communities and that ‘a University must give theoretical expression to the contradictions in the reality of everyday life’. Vic’s strong political convictions did not always have happy consequences – he was, for example, imprisoned in Nigeria in 1964 where he was conducting field work – but his was a stimulating and distinctive voice, and there was a rare breadth in his sociology, rooted as it was in both history and economics.

Vic retired from the University in 1988, becoming an Emeritus Professor, but continued his association with the institution as an Honorary Lecturer, with characteristic energy and rigour, until 1998. He is survived by his partner, Kate Carey.