On the 24th November, the two million or so members of the largest trade union in the UK will have a new General Secretary. The new representative will be chosen between the 25th October and the 19th November this year and will replace the current leaders of the organisation, Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley.
Unite the Union, one of the strongest and most prominent in Great Britain and Ireland, represents workers in the construction, energy, food, health, agriculture, finance and communication industries, among others.
Unite’s latest campaign began this year, facing British Airways (BA) and supporting Cabin Crew staff in a series of strikes to protest against salary modifications and employment changes that the company wishes to implement in order to cut costs. Jerry Hicks, Gail Cartmail, Les Bayliss, Len McCluckey are the four candidates that are presently running for the position of General Secretary, although the closing date for the acceptance of nominations is the 6th October. Jerry Hicks began his working life in the British automobile and aircraft company Rolls Royce in the English city of Bristol. There his involvement in union activity developed from 1975 onwards. He was elected as Workshop Representative in 1984, Deputy Coordinator in 1987, and Coordinator of Test Areas in 1990.
He was also promoted to the Amicus National Executive Committee in 2003. In June 2005, he launched a protest against the imminent dismissal of two employees as a result of which he was fired by Rolls Royce. Hicks is backed by the English film director Ken Loach.
Gail Cartmail is the only woman running for the position of General Secretary of Unite. She has worked in the publishing and printing industry. In said sector, she began her union work in 1975, when she achieved better pay and health and security improvements for workers. Furthermore, between 2003 and 2006 she was a National Official of Amicus Health (the second most important union in the UK, dissolved in 2007 due to its merger with Unite). Currently she acts as Secretary-General of Public Services for Unite, a position she has held since 2006.
Les Bayliss has been a union activist for 40 years, and is currently Assistant General-Secretary for Unite. Bayliss is a candidate for the General Secretary position and has the support of the Workings Unite Group, a left-wing organisation within Unite. He was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and later of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), until 1999.
Len McCluskey has been a trade unionist since 1968 when he began working as a longshoreman in his native Liverpool. In 1979 he was named an official of Transport and General Workers Union. In 1990 he became the General-Secretary of the General Workers Group, where he led negotiations for different sectors.
He was a member of the Labour Party for 39 years. In 2004 he was appointed National Organiser of the Union for all industries, and was part of the team that negotiated Unite’s merger with Amicus. He is currently Secretary-General of Unite for industrial strategy. He has led negotiations and campaigns in most sectors, including British Airways, oil distribution, the bus industry and the food and beverage sector.