Christina McAnea thanks activists at LGBT+ conference

Christina McAnea addressing LGBT+ conference

Christina McAnea took to the rostrum at UNION’s LGBT+ conference in Brighton this morning, to deliver a message of hope, of pride and of gratitude, mixed with anger at the antics of the Tory government in Westminster.

After a very warm greeting for what was her first live speech to a conference since becoming UNISON’s first female general secretary at the beginning of the year, she told delegates that she was “incredibly proud of the work our union has done – and you’ve all done – on getting the country through this pandemic.

“Although we know we’re not through it yet,” she added dryly.

She observed that the union’s activists had not only been helping communities get through the COVID-19 crisis – they’d also been helping the union’s members deal with it too, whether that was helping sort out arrangements for working from home, to helping arrange safe returns to workplaces.

“I’m incredibly grateful to you,” reiterated Ms McAnea.

And she noted that for LGBT+ people, the pandemic had increased a variety of problems, such as increasing the social isolation that was already experienced by many in that community.

She said that she had hoped to be able to talk about a post-pandemic world, but since that is not possible, it remains a priority for the union to get COVID-19 guidance out – including that specifically for LGBT+ members.

But at Westminster, what had happened, she asked rhetorically. People in power, “trying to force through changes to protect their cronies.

Cronies of government ministers, families of government ministers – even ministers themselves” – getting involved in “dodgy deals” to enrich themselves and others. Ms McAnea cited deals for PPE, where the products were too shoddy to be of any use.

UNISON would make sure, she said, that “people don’t forget”.

And the union would also continue working, across “all the bargaining groups, across the winter and into the spring” to keep the pressure on the government over pay – as it won’t take seriously claims of there being no money, given the eye-watering sums the government has tossed at friends and donors.

On the union’s wider work she noted that: “We have to make sure that our workplaces – your workplaces – are free from discrimination, from harassment. Free from the threat of violence.”

That there are 69 countries where homosexuality – or elements of homosexuality – are still considered a criminal offence illustrated the importance of continued vigilance.

People might think a battle has been won, but she warned that rights could either “disappear overnight or be chipped away over time”, which had added particular resonance as it is Transgender Remembrance Day.

Transgender rights were something “I take very seriously,” said the general secretary. And of the “toxic debates” on transgender people and gender that are currently occurring, they are “not welcome in our union”.

And to applause, she added: “I have never felt, as a woman, that my rights were threatened by giving rights to transgender women.”

Ms McAnea praised the union’s commitment to equality, saying it had been in the rule book since UNISON was formed.

“Proportionality,” she said: “Quite a dry word for something that is really beautiful”.

Fair representation is about making sure that everybody’s voice is heard. All of the parts of the union matter, but all this has to be a “dynamic, ongoing commitment”. And that, she told conference, is why membership engagement is so important.

Urging delegates to take part in her consultation on suggestions to improve UNISON and the work that it does, she told them that she expects to have more news early next year of the UNISON college, which was one of her key manifesto commitments in her campaign in last year’s general secretary election.

Ms McAnea concluded by noting the slogan on the conference platform: ‘Equally strong, united and fabulous’, and stressed how important it was for the union to be united.

And after deploying the famous (mis)quote from Emma Goldman – “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to join your revolution” – she urged them: “Let’s all stay fabulous!”