After 160 years, women break through the glass ceiling of the trades union movement

Barrie Clement,Labour Editor
Thursday 23 January 2003 01:00

Leaders of seven million trade unionists chose two women for top jobs in the movement yesterday – paving the way for the first female general secretary of the TUC.

Frances O'Grady, a left-winger, smashed through the "glass ceiling" to become the first woman deputy general secretary of the TUC in its 160-year history. Under the "Buggins' turn" system at Congress House, Ms O'Grady, the head of organisation and services, is expected eventually to become general secretary – the most important post in the organisation.

And Kay Carberry, currently the head of the TUC's equal rights department, is to become assistant general secretary, the third most senior post at Congress House.

The appointments stand in stark contrast to the leadership of individual unions, which are overwhelmingly dominated by men, despite their claim to be the champions of sex equality in the workplace. There are only five female general secretaries among the 69 TUC-affiliated unions, and all the big unions have male leaders

The TUC executive chose Ms O'Grady in preference to David Coats, the Blairite head of the economic and social affairs department at Congress House.

Ms O'Grady, who has two children, began her career at the Transport and General Workers' Union and joined the TUC in 1994, becoming campaigns officer.

Insiders believe the new deputy general secretary, a member of the Labour Party, will concentrate on attempting to revive the union movement at grassroots level, rather than trying to make her influence felt in the corridors of power. Her job tends to involve backroom political "fixing" rather than the round of media appearances expected of the general secretary.

However, she is likely to be more critical of the Government than Brendan Barber, who will become general secretary in May. Earlier this month Mr Barber, 51, was elected in succession to John Monks, who is leaving to become the head of the European TUC in Brussels.

Welcoming the appointments, Mr Barber said: " The trade union movement has a proud record of campaigning for equal pay and against sex discrimination, but we have been much less good at appointing women to senior levels in the movement itself. That is why today's appointments are a real advance, even though we all know we have much further to go."

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