A significant milestone was reached yesterday in UK trade union affairs - the Trade Union Congress (TUC), elected its first ever female general secretary.
Frances O’ Grady will replace the current TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, who has held the position for 10 years.
O’Grady is one of few women to reach a senior position, of course Brenda Dean who became the first president of the print Union Sogat is another notable figure. Now a Baroness she was the union’s general secretary between 1985 and 1991.
O’Grady has made trade union history twice, having been elected as the first female deputy general secretary in 2003.
She is known as an effective negotiator and able public speaker and has been an active trade unionist all her working life, joining a trade union while still a schoolgirl doing part-time jobs.
Her dedication and commitment to the movement couldn’t be more apparent than when she vowed to use her position to ensure the TUC continued to “speak up for working people”.
She said in a speech:” Never has a strong, responsible trade union movement been so needed. With austerity policies biting hard and with no evidence that they are working, people at work need the TUC to speak up for them now more than ever.
“We must be the advocates of the growth and jobs alternative, and with the policy prescriptions of the last 30 years increasingly discredited, we have the best opportunity in a generation to help build a fair, productive and green economy that works for ordinary people,” she said.
Trade Union politics is demanding, tough and at times messy, so it’s a tall order for even the most seasoned of unionists. Her experience to date makes her stand head and shoulders above almost all her contemporaries though.
I hope her role will encourage more women to aim for senior positions in trade unions.
Very best wishes to Frances. She will, I know, be a huge success as TUC General Secretary, a tough job in these difficult economic times.