UNISON race to succeed retiring general secretary Dave Prentis gets underway

Sienna Rodgers

The race is now underway to succeed Dave Prentis as general secretary of the party-affiliated trade union UNISON when he retires at the end of 2020 after two decades in the top role.

Christina McAnea, currently assistant general secretary at UNISON, is expected to formally announce her intention to stand for the job today and launch a campaign.

The Glasgow-born trade unionist is currently responsible for UNISON’s collective bargaining, negotiations and equalities strategy, and has had a focus on health and social care workers.

McAnea has written for LabourList about the impact of Tory immigration policy on social care, working with Labour councils to fight austerity, respect for NHS staff, and privatisation.

Her general secretary campaign will promise leadership of a “modern organising union”, pledging to listen to members, back a “new deal for workers”, a national care service and anti-discrimination.

Commenting on the launch of her bid, McAnea said: “I’ve spent my working life fighting to get a better deal for union members, fighting bad employers and fighting discrimination and racism in all its forms.

“Along the way, I’ve won important victories for our members on equal pay, on pensions and working conditions. I’ve supported and represented members.

“I’ve made sure their voice is heard. I put UNISON members’ interests at the heart of all the work I do and I will use our collective strength to secure our members’ futures.”

Roger McKenzie, also an assistant general secretary at UNISON, launched his own campaign last week. He is considered to be on the left of the Labour-affiliated trade union.

McKenzie has said he intends to run a “positive and optimistic” campaign and highlighted the need for change in the face of new challenges presented by Covid and the government’s response to it.

“We need a much higher public and media profile than we have ever had. We must never be overshadowed by other unions,” he declared, adding: “Campaigning will be a priority.”

He has pledged to increase the number of UNISON activists to 100,000, up the number of union learning reps to 5,000, and bring the union “close to its members and work harder for them”.

Hugo Pierre, a member of UNISON’s national executive council – as a representative of Black members – and of the Socialist Party, has said he is “looking to be the candidate of the left”.

The former TUSC candidate for Poplar and Limehouse, who stood against Labour incumbent Jim Fitzpatrick for the London seat in 2015, is an activist in the borough of Camden.

All those candidates who have declared so far would make history if successful by becoming either UNISON’s first female or first Black general secretary.

Prentis announced earlier this month that he would retire when his term of office ends in December 2020. Labour leader Keir Starmer thanked him for “many years of outstanding leadership”.

Other large affiliated unions Unite and GMB will also be seeing changes of leadership in the near future. Steve Turner was recently confirmed as United Left’s pick to succeed Len McCluskey.

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