‘A struggle is a struggle. That’s why we’ve got to stick together’

UNISON president Andrea Egan outlines her vision, pledging: “I use every power and opportunity I’ve got, and I won’t leave any equality group behind”

UNISON president Andrea Egan says she’s given her life to the trade union movement. A committed UNISON and local government activist of over three decades in Bolton, she “couldn’t be prouder” to be from the North West.

Describing how the union has given her the resources and space to help make a difference, she noted: “As a working-class woman, it’s allowed me to really fulfil that deep sense of how unfair and unequal society is, and has allowed me a platform to do that work and given me a structure to influence change.”

Ms Egan’s organising track record is strong: leading UNISON’s first industrial action against academisation of two Bolton secondary schools in 2008; organising to stop the closure of local childrens’ centres; pushing for trans policies in her local council and fighting tirelessly for disability inclusion.

It’s unsurprising that she believes that collective organising is where UNISON is most powerful.

“We’re an organising union. When you’re organised and winning, it attracts people to join the union, as opposed to just servicing.”

Servicing, she explains, is the ‘insurance policy’ feature of unions, that promises protection in case of any workplace issues. For Ms Egan, although this “can’t be the main focus of who we are”, the two features of the union aren’t mutually exclusive.

“In my branch, if somebody rings and there’s a disciplinary or a grievance, we consider: ‘Can that be a collective grievance?’ If it’s an issue of wages or bullying, we consider: ‘Who else in that workplace is suffering from that same issue?’

“We try to collectivise the issues. We’ve supported campaigns when employers want to target or have failed one member, and other workers have stepped forward. We have organised those workers to stand together to take action.”

Referencing successful UNISON campaigns in the region from rehabilitation workers in Wigan to winning the living wage for commissioned care workers across Greater Manchester, Ms Egan said “we can see the model of organising in all of those wins.”

Given that UNISON members work within public services, Ms Egan recognises the union holds a unique position in its capacity to engage the public and local communities.

“I’ve led some fantastic campaigns, which were only fantastic through the engagement of the community. We often forget that.

“During the academy campaign, I would attend branch committee and remind our stewards: ‘Don’t forget, this isn’t just about the children’s section fighting the academy programme. It’s about you – grandparents, parents, aunties and uncles who have kids in those schools. You’ve all got a part to play’.”


As newly-appointed president of UNISON’s national executive council, Ms Egan is keen to lend her power to amplify issues of equality. She said: “I use every power and opportunity I’ve got, and I won’t leave any equality group behind. We’ve got to do whatever we can where people are disadvantaged, or there’s a potential for them to be treated differently and unequally in the workplace.”

Ms Egan is a proud trans ally and recently celebrated the launch of UNISON’s new trans equality campaign: “Being president of the largest union in the UK gives me a platform to be able to advocate and be a trans ally. I’ve always been an ally.

“I might be a white, heterosexual, able-bodied female, but that doesn’t mean I cannot understand what [trans people] are going through. As a white working-class woman, brought up by a single mum on a housing estate, I understand struggle.

“A struggle is a struggle. That’s why we’ve got to stick together.”

Ms Egan at UNISON’s trans equality campaign launch

As her presidential project, Ms Egan has chosen the Endeavour Project in Bolton, which supports survivors of domestic abuse and “doesn’t leave anyone behind”. The organisation offers a pet fostering service, to ensure that survivors of domestic abuse don’t have to give up their pets or leave them with abusers.

Every July, the organisation coordinates a ramble on Holcombe Moor in memory of Ellen Strange, and also honours the women who have been killed by domestic abuse in the past 12 months, which Ms Egan attends as part of group of local UNISON members.

As president of the UK’s biggest trade union at a time where the government are openly targeting unions, Ms Egan recognises UNISON is facing a “massive challenge”

In response to Tory leadership candidate Liz Truss’s statement that she will crack down on trade unions, Ms Egan said: “It’s not solely an attack on the trade unions, it’s an attack on the working class, because it’s the trade unions who organise the working class and have the power to give people a voice.

“When Truss says she wants to undo all the red tape, that won’t just affect union members, it affects the whole of society and all the things we’ve worked for.”