Frances O’Grady, the first and only female general secretary of the Trades Union Congress in its 154-year history, has announced that she will step down at the end of 2022 after nine years in charge.
O’Grady was elected general secretary of the UK’s umbrella group for trade unions in 2013, representing millions of workers across the country.
Having been raised in an active trade unionist working-class family, O’Grady first joined the TUC in 1994 and led a campaign to bring more women into the movement. She was later appointed deputy general secretary in 2003, before being elected to the top job a decade later.
Some of her other prominent campaign activities included pushing for the introduction of the national minimum wage, championing workers’ rights in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008, and leading negotiations over working standards for staff at the 2012 Olympics in London.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, O’Grady played a prominent role by working with the government and the then head of the Confederation of British Industry, Carolyn Fairbairn, on drawing up the furlough scheme.
Hailing the opportunity to lead the TUC as the “greatest honour of my life”, O’Grady said as she announced her intention to step down that trade unions were “a force for good in British society.”
She said: “I am proud of what we achieved during the pandemic - from securing furlough to keeping people safe at work, championing equality and keeping vital services running.
“The last decade has been turbulent - with three general elections, two anti-trade union bills, an EU referendum and a pandemic to contend with. But on every occasion unions have risen to the challenge and fought for working people.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer paid tribute to O’Grady, calling her a “great champion for working people” and saying that her departure would come as a “huge loss”.
O’Grady’s successor will be elected at the TUC’s annual meeting in September. Each affiliated trade union will be able to nominate a candidate before a closing date of July 11.
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