UNISON elects Christina McAnea as first female general secretary

The UK’s biggest trade union has elected its first female leader.

Christina McAnea will lead UNISON after winning the contest to become the union’s new general secretary.

She succeeds Dave Prentis, who has retired after 20 years in the role.

Ms McAnea won nearly half (48%) of the votes in UNISON’s leadership ballot, as she beat three rival male candidates.

Following the announcement of her victory, she posted on Twitter: “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 added she had become UNISON’s general secretary “at the most challenging time in recent history – both for our country and our public services”.

Ms McAnea, who will take up her post on 22 January, was congratulated by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who told her: “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.”

Ms McAnea has worked at UNISON since its formation in 1993 and, during the COVID-19 crisis, has sat on the government’s social care stakeholder group.

In 2014, she was the lead negotiator during a strike by NHS staff – the first in England for 25 years.

The married mother-of-two now lives in south London, having been born in Glasgow.

She left school at the age of 16 and worked in the civil service, NHS and retail before going to university at the age of 22.

She then worked for Glasgow council before beginning her trade union career.

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In a recent interview with the LabourList website, Ms McAnea described how she had worked since the age of 15 to help her mother provide for her and her three siblings.

“We were definitely one of the poor families on the street,” she said, as she described how she had once joined the Communist Party.

“We lived in that hand-to-mouth existence where if anything goes wrong it’s a major catastrophe because you don’t have savings.”

Mr Prentis announced his retirement in July last year, although he continued to lead UNISON until the end of 2020 when his term of office ended.

“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.”

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