Christina McAnea succeeds Dave Prentis as UNISON general secretary

Sienna Rodgers

Christina McAnea has won the contest within UNISON to succeed retired Dave Prentis as general secretary of the Labour-affiliated trade union that represents almost 1.3 million members.

Glasgow-born McAnea, who was assistant general secretary responsible for collective bargaining and negotiation until now, has become the first female leader of the union in its history.

Commenting on her victory this morning, the new general secretary said: “We made history! Thanks so much for all the support. I may be the first woman GS in UNISON but I won’t be the last.”

She is replacing Prentis, who told members in July last year that he would be retiring at the end of his term, which drew to a close on December 31st. He served as head of the union for 20 years.

He tweeted: “This is a historic day for our union, and I am delighted that Christina – a close friend and colleague of over 30 years – has today been elected as general secretary of our great union”.

McAnea, who sits on the government’s Covid-19 social care stakeholder group and drove the creation last year of the cross-party future social care coalition, will take up her new post on January 22nd.

Voting in the ballot was as follows (in alphabetical order): 

Paul Holmes – 45,220 (33.76%)

Christina McAnea – 63,900 (47.7%)

Roger McKenzie – 14,450 (10.79%)

Hugo Pierre – 10,382 (7.75%)

McAnea said: “I’m so grateful to everyone who voted for me and for the trust placed in me. I become general secretary at the most challenging time in recent history – both for our country and our public services.

“Health, care, council, police, energy, school, college and university staff have worked throughout the pandemic, and it’s their skill and dedication that will see us out the other side.

“Their union will continue to speak up for them and do all it can to protect them in the difficult months ahead. Despite the risks, the immense pressures and their sheer exhaustion, the dedication and commitment of our key workers knows no end. I will not let this government, nor any future one, forget that.

“Supporting public service workers through the pandemic, securing an early pay rise for NHS staff and ensuring the government backs down on its plans for an ill-judged pay freeze will be my immediate priorities.

“Pushing for the funding and the political will to create a quality, affordable national care service, where staff are respected and paid fairly, comes close behind.”

Prentis said: “This is a historic day for our union, and I am delighted that Christina – a close friend and colleague for over 30 years – has today been elected as general secretary of our great union.

“As an experienced and respected negotiator and passionate campaigner, I can think of no better person to pass the baton to and take our union forward. I am so proud that our union of over a million women now has its very first woman leader.

“Christina will be a fantastic general secretary, as she presides over a growing union. I know she will continue to stand up for public service workers everywhere, holding employers and the government to account in pursuit of the strong, well-funded services the UK’s communities both need and deserve.”

McAnea, the candidate with the support of UNISON’s last leadership, won against another of UNISON’s five assistant general secretaries, Roger McKenzie, plus national executive council members Paul Holmes and Hugo Pierre.

McKenzie had been nominated by one service group executive, one regional council and 104 branches, Holmes by one service group executive, two regional councils and 99 branches, and Pierre by 31 branches.

Reacting to the result, McKenzie said: “I want to congratulate Christina McAnea on her election as UNISON general secretary and all the other candidates for the spirited and ideas driven campaigns they ran.

“But most of all I want to thank the thousands of UNISON members who took part in these elections in the midst of this unprecedented public health crisis.

“Our members keep our country running and our people safe. They deserve the very best. As assistant general secretary, I will work with Christina and her team to support our members through this difficult time and beyond.

“Together we will build a self-confident, democratic and organising union that gets our members what they deserve, for them, their families, their communities and for the wider public they serve so faithfully.”

The votes of those seeking to change the political direction of the union were split between three rival candidates. McKenzie won the backing of Jeremy Corbyn, while Holmes was supported by John McDonnell.

UNISON members work in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy, employed in public, voluntary and private sectors. McAnea has particularly focused on health and social care workers.

In an interview with LabourList in October, McAnea said she first started working for a trade union as a tribunals officer for the GMB in Glasgow, before moving to their London office as a legal officer and to support the equalities team.

She later moved to the National and Local Government Officers’ Association (NALGO), which merged with others to form UNISON. She was at first equalities officer and head negotiator in the education and healthcare teams.

Talking about her plans for the union, McAnea said: “I think we have centralised too much in UNISON and we have to decentralise.” She said regions need resources and freedom to deal with issues independently.

UNISON endorsed Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner in the 2020 leadership and deputy leadership elections, with Prentis writing on LabourList that “they have all the ingredients for a winning team”.

While other candidates were more critical of the current Labour leadership, McAnea is expected to maintain a close relationship with the party’s top figures – including Rayner, who was a UNISON rep before entering parliament.

Starmer tweeted in response to the news: “Congratulations @cmcanea on being elected as @unisontheunion’s general secretary. I know you will be a brilliant representative for UNISON members.

“And it’s a significant moment for the union to elect its first woman general secretary. I look forward to working with you.”

Rayner tweeted: “Congratulations to Christina McAnea on her election as UNISON general secretary, the first female GS of UNISON representing over one million key workers.

“I look forward to working with you to fight for pay rises for our key workers and to ensure they are safe at work. Solidarity.”

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