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June 28, 2011

IconUNISON elects first black woman president and first lesbian vice-president

One of the UK’s largest unions has elected Maureen Le Marinel as its first ever lesbian vice-president. She replaces Eleanor Smith, who has become UNISON’s first black woman president. The positions are the highest to be held by lay members of the Union.

Le Marinel was discharged from the army because of her sexuality, joining UNISON in 1984 after experiencing homophobia in her new job in the Lancashire Police control room. She is currently the branch secretary for UNISON’s Lancashire Police branch and has been a member of the union’s National Executive Committee since 2003.

“Throughout my life, fairness has always been key,” said Le Marinel. “UNISON is not a banging on the table type of union – we want to find a fair and reasonable solution that is best for everyone.”

“This is a guiding principle that will take me through my presidential term, as I help the union, and public services, face head on some of the biggest challenges that we have faced in my lifetime.”

Smith is a theatre nurse at Birmingham Women’s Hospital. She explained that she was proud to take on her new role but concerned about the impact of public sector cuts.

“Tackling inequality in the workplace and promoting fairer access to public services has always been a priority for me, but is even more important now that Tory-led cuts are driving a wedge through local communities,” said Smith.

“Everyone is suffering, and women, young people, and ethnic minorities even more so, as the vital public services and jobs they rely on are being taken away.”

UNISON is the second largest trade union and largest public sector union and the in the UK, with over 1.3 million members. The organisation is currently threatening a national strike over pension reforms, but announced on Monday that any strike ballot will take place later in the summer.

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Ruth Pearce

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