Union firebrands battle for leading GMB role in place of Sir Paul Kenny

The winner will be announced in the autumn, when Sir Paul, who was knighted for services to trade unions last month, stands down

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The scourges of British business are lining up to succeed arguably the most successful union leader of modern times, Sir Paul Kenny, as general secretary of the GMB.

The GMB’s national energy secretary, Gary Smith, and regional bosses Paul Maloney, Paul McCarthy and Tim Roache will throw their hats into the ring when nominations close next month.

Mr Smith brokered one of the most stunning pay deals during the financial crisis in 2010, when 8,000 British Gas engineers received an 11.3 per cent pay rise. He recently led a campaign that helped to force out Nuclear Management Partners, a consortium led by the US engineer URS, from managing the decontamination of the Sellafield nuclear facility in Cumbria.

Mr Maloney, southern regional secretary, is known for fighting the private equity industry, notably campaigning over Permira’s takeover of the AA in 2004 and the thousands of job losses that followed. His work sparked a parliamentary inquiry into the buyout barons in 2008, and he has been vocal over the potential privatisation of the NHS.

In 2012, Mr McCarthy, who is secretary for the North-west and Irish region, argued that the high-street chain Next made huge profits while paying low wages. He has also been at the forefront of campaigns seeking justice for the families of victims of the Hillsborough stadium disaster.

Mr Roache, who declared his candidacy last month, has called on the Government to insist that employers pay a living wage in this week’s Budget. The Yorkshire and North Derbyshire regional secretary organised a 12-week strike by Leeds refuse collectors over pay in 2009.

The winner will be announced in the autumn, when Sir Paul, who was knighted for services to trade unions last month, stands down after two five-year terms in charge of the country’s third biggest union.

Representing every sector from security to utilities, the GMB was enduring dreadful losses when he took over in 2005, but is now the UK’s fastest-growing trade union, with more than 630,000 members.

He led the revelations into the blacklisting scandal, which saw construction workers unable to get work by being branded “militants” or “troublemakers” on secret and often inaccurate files.

Sir Paul also worked on highlighting tax avoidance of corporations like Starbucks and Google, telling The Independent last year that UK bosses of overseas firms involved in such schemes should be “banged up”.

Whoever wins will lead a renegotiation over the conditions of the GMB’s support of Labour – the union donated £600,000 in the third week of the election campaign alone.

GMB members are increasingly frustrated that their traditional party of choice has drifted away from socialist values over the past 30 years. A source close to one of the candidates said: “It’s not enough for Labour to say vote for us so you don’t get the Conservatives, only to see them do just the same things.”