By ARNOLD PICKMERE

Trade union leader, died aged 75.

Pat Kelly, a veteran of the cloth-cap, sock-it-to-'em school of trade unionists, came from an impoverished Liverpool family.

He arrived in New Zealand in 1954 as an assisted immigrant, starting work at the Methven tap factory in Dunedin.

A proud communist, he became involved in the union movement while working at the Meremere power scheme in the Waikato.

He went on to become president of the Wellington Trades Council for nine years from 1977, an organiser of the Drivers Union and secretary of the Cleaners' and Caretakers' union.

His public style was the unblinking stare through thick glasses and a hard-nosed approach. His facial expression often suggested he had just detected an unpleasant smell.

When he retired 11 years ago he observed: "I don't think I've ever said anything good about an employer in my life."

Kelly was once described as one of the last of the foreign-born militant union leaders with foreign accents.

He joined the Labour Party, as a former communist, in 1977. As head of the party's affiliated unions council for 13 years, he was perhaps the unionist most disillusioned by the Lange Government's Rogernomics reforms and job losses.

He was a strong supporter of David Lange - though Mr Lange once jokingly described him as "Gaddafi without the ethnic charm".

But he could not stand Finance Minister Roger Douglas and suggested his expulsion from the party.

When Sir Roger was re-elected to the Labour caucus in August 1989, having been earlier removed by Mr Lange, Pat Kelly suggested he should be given the "Ministry for Deaths - because that would bury him".

By January 1990, Mr Kelly said he could no longer advise his members to vote Labour.

His particular problem was the Government's refusal to protect the jobs of school cleaners under the Tomorrow's Schools regime. Up to a dozen schools had already switched to cheaper private contractors.

Kelly stepped down as president of Labour's union council in September 1992 with bitter regret that after all his years in the position, "unions are in a worse state now than when we started".

There was a softer side to him, and some humour in private.

His grief was evident at the funeral of friend and fellow union organiser Ernie Abbot, the caretaker killed by a suitcase bomb at the Wellington Trades Hall 20 years ago. The crime is still unsolved.

Tributes flowed yesterday. Friend and union leader Dave Morgan said Kelly fought doggedly for workers' interests. He also took part in anti-Vietnam war protests, the anti-apartheid movement and anti-nuclear protests.

Council for Trade Unions president Ross Wilson said Kelly was "a real character of the trade union movement".

Of himself, Kelly told the Dominion on his retirement in 1993: "If a cloth-capper is a unionist who operates on the philosophy of the working class first, the working class second and, if there's anything left, the working class third, then I'm a cloth-cap trade unionist."