Mark Ladbrooke’s coal miner grandfather was imprisoned during the General Strike of 1926 and both his parents were union reps.

So, perhaps it was a foregone conclusion that Mark Ladbrooke would be a union man.

The 57-year-old secretary of Unison’s Oxfordshire health branch went to his first union meeting aged 20 and argued officials should secure better pay for young workers.

He must have been convincing, because they persuaded him to become a union rep.

He said: “I was worried about my pay but have always been interested in broader political and international issues.”

Growing up in Barry, South Wales, he went to the local comprehensive school and spent school holidays working at the funfair on Barry Island.

He started his career as a primary school teacher in a poor area of Cardiff.

Because he had gone straight from being a student to teaching, he felt he needed to step outside the academic bubble.

So, he went to work on the signalling system of British Rail.

“It was being broken up ready for privatisation, so that was a very interesting experience,” he said.

“People used to say it couldn’t get any worse.

“Now, we see the NHS being broken up and big chunks being privatised.

“We hear this coalition government say the NHS is protected and ring-fenced.

“I’m afraid that just isn’t true.”

Meanwhile, he saw signalling systems on the railways becoming computerised, and signed up for a masters degree in computing. A placement at the NHS introduced him to the health service and he stayed on rather than returning to the railways.

Aside from his union role, he works as a trainer in the public health unit of the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust.

He lives in Headington with wife Maeve and says there are strong union links in Oxford’s history, particularly connected to the Cowley car plant.

He is keen to get the message across that he is part of a team.

“I can’t do my job without the help of other union stewards and reps,” he pointed out. He also believes the real strength of any union lies in members taking an active interest.

“Some people view being a member of a trade union a bit like joining the RAC.” he said.

“When your car breaks down, you phone and they come and fix it.

“Your only relationship with it is the £25 a year you pay.

“But a trade union doesn’t work as well like that.

“It doesn’t deliver tablets of stone, it’s a human institution that makes mistakes.

“People should feel free to argue with the union, because it belongs to all of us.”