Blog: “Busy, demanding, and unpredictable – I wouldn’t have it any other way”

Looking back on my first year as general secretary, I am as determined now as I was a year ago to deliver on my promises to you

general secretary Christina McAnea with UNISON members outside a London hospital

This Saturday marks one year since I took office as your new General Secretary, and I still feel the same immense pride as I did on that first day. It was, and is, a huge responsibility, in turbulent times.

Your continued achievements and resilience in navigating the health crisis, at work and in your personal lives, have given me constant inspiration to take on the challenges of my role.

UNISON has succeeded for over 25 years because of the work of millions of trade unionists and it will be millions more who’ll keep our union alive for the next 25 years and beyond.

The world of work has changed drastically since UNISON formed and government attacks on public services and restrictive trade union laws, are taking their toll. Change will be more marked because of Covid-19, but we are meeting these challenges head on, together.

A year ago, we were in the middle of a strict lockdown, amid a deadly pandemic, and I am as determined now as I was then to deliver on my promises to you.

Resources for branches and regions

We’re modernising UNISON, so it is fit for the future, by getting resources and support out to branches and regions. Access to our CaseWeb system will help activists support members and we’ve been progressing our branch support and organising fund, with more than £3.5million extra for priority projects set by regions and branches.

I’m following through on my commitment to give a stronger voice to every member through our member engagement and participation project. This has started hearing from UNISON’s low paid women members and I’m consulting activists on how we can work together.

I also pledged my support to help you get on in your personal lives, in the union and at work, by establishing a National UNISON college – bringing together learning of all kinds with new opportunities available in the coming months. By April, the College should be well under way. Our bold ambition is to double, or even treble, our union’s learning.

Fighting for, and supporting, every member

A modern union must ensure every UNISON member has the right support when they need it. The stronger our members, activists and branches are, the more we can fight for a new deal for public services and the amazing people who provide them.

Your pay, conditions and job security will continue to be the priority. I know you’re exhausted from your work during the pandemic, but your union is in your corner. I’ve worked with our national bargaining groups to make sure fighting low pay remains a key priority.

UNISON has protected your activism after a legal victory that means employers can no longer mistreat staff who take part in industrial action, all while supporting campaigns and actions to drive up pay, stop fire and rehire, and push back against outsourcing and privatisation.

Alongside the TUC, we’ve been lobbying governments to scrap attempts to suppress our democratic and human rights, and at every opportunity I get in the national media, I’ve been keeping up the pressure on employers, challenging government ministers and raising UNISON’s profile.

Hearing voices from across the UK

Our members are so important – so as soon as it became safe to travel, I got out to visit as many of you as possible. I was delighted to join Northern Ireland’s regional council and to open the Cymru/Wales new exhibition on UNISON and the Welsh Labour Movement.

I’ve visited school support staff as far south as the Isle of Wight, toured several Yorkshire & Humberside branches and joined Scottish members on the climate justice march in Glasgow. I visited our biggest branch and some of our smallest, and proudly addressed our national delegate conference, as well as our service group and self-organised group conferences.

Social Care

I promised to keep fighting for social care – a top priority that I’ve stuck to – lobbying government ministers, past and present, and putting pressure on employers and social care commissioners.

We’ve used legal and industrial routes to constantly challenge the way social care is delivered and how the workforce is treated. We forced the Westminster Government to offer a workforce retention and recruitment fund to address staff shortages and we’re pushing our vision of a fair deal for care workers with governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I also spoke at Labour’s annual party conference to make sure UNISON’s motion calling for a national social care service was carried overwhelmingly to become party policy.


As ever, I’ve been putting our commitment to equalities into practice. I promised to lead our collective strength of one million women to be a voice for all women in the workplace, and to lead the fight to end sexism, misogyny, racism and dismantle the injustice of all discrimination.

Our women’s participation project has already brought together low-paid women from across the union. We’ve won commitments from the government to introduce a mandatory duty on employers to protect staff from sexual harassment, we’ve put policies like equal pay, maternity rights, and support during the menopause centre stage in our negotiating campaigns. And I’ve spoken out about institutional racism across our society and the impact it has on people’s lives and work.

UNISON will keep challenging these issues. It was the union’s work that got the Westminster Government to change its guidance on shielding for disabled workers and put more money into Access to Work and extend it to home working.

Green and international issues

To secure everyone’s future, I promised to reinforce UNISON’s green agenda, and in November, I joined colleagues in Scotland to launch our Greening Public Services report during COP26. A ground-breaking report that governments should use as a blueprint for the future.

Despite all the other issues we face – I remain committed to our international agenda, working with others across the globe, supporting their struggles and campaigning for better public services everywhere and a fairer world for all.

This last year has been extremely busy, demanding, and unpredictable. Yet, throughout it all, I always remember that I am doing this on behalf of 1.3 million amazing people. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Each one of you I have met along the way, has given me all the motivation I need to get on and deliver for every UNISON member.

In solidarity,