Gender And Unity In The Labour Movement - Guardian 17 Sept) are used to urge that its time for 'a woman' to lead UNISON perhaps its time to look at where women are in the union.
The leadership of UNISON, as national newspapers may not be aware, lies in the lay membership. At its pinnacle is the National Executive Council, of whom at any point in time two thirds will automatically be women, due to an election process that awards seats at every level on the basis of proportionality, reflecting the proportion of women in the membership. The presidency of our union is guaranteed to consist of at least two women out of a structure of a president and two vice presidents. This means that in the last eighteen years since the merged union elected its own president, only six men have ever held that office.
The majority of the NEC’s committees are led by women, with socialist women currently in charge of the Finance Committee and the Policy Committee. Over the years individual personalities may have come and gone but within the committee system this model has been regularly repeated and indeed at some points over the history of UNISON, all of the chairing posts were held and led by women, from Services to Members, Development and Organisation to International as well as the two mentioned above.
This pattern is repeated in the Service Group structure, where again the majority of the chairs representing major negotiating groups are women. From the start of UNISON, in major negotiations from Single Status to Agenda for Change, to launching a new service group for Police Staff, or bringing together a single table in Higher Education, the key players have been UNISON women.
Where vital issues for members are being discussed, UNISON women are involved. These women have led key disputes on the crucial issues of pay and pensions.
At regional level, regions are free to elect their own regional lay leadership. But yet again, women dominate those structures. Three quarters of UNISON’s regions are led by formidable women conveners, chairing regional councils and regional committees, taking responsibility for the political and campaigning work of their regions, and working with regional secretaries to ensure that branches have the resources and the staff to meet the needs of our membership.
The “government" structure of UNISON is the National Delegate Conference. Again the UNISON rules of proportionality and fair representation apply. This means that the vast majority of delegates deciding the policies of UNISON are women from our branches. UNISON women have led the crucial debates from Pay and Pensions, the Economy and Equality, to Equal Pay, our discussions on International matters and issues such as Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment.Women lead on issues regarding our own finances and structures The Women’s agenda is our conference agenda.
Women in the leadership? Draw your own conclusions.