Christina McAnea has strongly rejected any suggestion that she is the “continuity candidate” in UNISON’s general secretary election and described use of the label as “patronising with a big dose of misogyny”.
Commenting on the perception that she will follow in the footsteps of outgoing general secretary Dave Prentis, the contender told Left Foot Forward: “Others are saying I’m the continuity candidate.
“I think it’s patronising with a big dose of misogyny that it’s only being said about the woman candidate – that she can only do it if she can continue the work of the predecessor. I find it annoying.”
Asked what it would mean to be the first female general secretary in UNISON’s history, McAnea replied: “I think it would send a strong message given that the union is 80% women.
“I’m astonished that I’m the only woman who stood and amazed that no other political grouping put up women… You’d think in a union of 80% women, out of five candidates… you’d have thought it would have been the reverse.
“I’ve been saying this in all the hustings – not asking people to vote for me just because I’m a woman, but because I’m the best person for the job.”
On Keir Starmer, McAnea said: “I know [Keir] – he was based in our office. We don’t have a close relationship. I don’t have Labour Party endorsements. I’m a member of the Labour Party and support the Labour Link. But my heart’s in the union.”
The UNISON assistant general secretary concluded: “We would support the party on issues we support. Where they bring in policies we don’t support, we would campaign against them – across the UK.”
McAnea distanced herself from the idea backed by some of her contenders that UNISON should reduce its donations to the Labour Party, and said non-members should not be part of the union’s financial donation decisions.
She said: “There’s this perception that the general secretary becomes this all-powerful figure – the general secretary still has to follow union rules set by members, conference, and the national executive council.
“No-one who comes in as general secretary can suddenly say ‘I will stop this’ – one [area] in particular is our political fund. I strongly believe that decisions on Labour Link should only be taken by members of the Labour Party.”
She also criticised what she saw as the over-prominent role played by fringe left-wing parties such as the Socialist Party and the SWP in UNISON, saying that she felt it “puts some people off” from getting more involved with the union.
McAnea added: “People are entitled to be in whatever party they want, I’m glad they want to get involved and take on difficult jobs – that’s great. But you do wonder if that focus may put off other people who aren’t as politically active.”
The Glasgow-born union officer is one of four candidates who have made it to the ballot in the race to be UNISON’s next general secretary. The others are Paul Holmes, Roger McKenzie and Hugo Pierre.
Outgoing general secretary Dave Prentis has been in the role for 20 years but announced his retirement in July. He has been very supportive of Keir Starmer’s as Labour leader after endorsing him in the party leadership election.
UNISON members will vote on their preferred candidate to replace Prentis from October 28th to November 27th, with the results set to be announced on January 11th, 2021.