Gail Cartmail is a UK labor leader. She is an Assistant General Secretary at Unite the Union. Her main role is to lead the union’s construction, energy, finance and public service teams, campaigning for better terms and conditions for members in that sector. She is a Commissioner at the UK Commission for Employment and Skills.
Morning Star contributors
September 15 2020, was unforgettable moment in the life of Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail. Because on that date, at the close of this year’s TUC conference, Gail became the president of the TUC and will hold the office until the close of next year’s conference.
Presiding over the Trades Union Congress is probably the greatest honour any active trade unionist can hope to achieve. But, like most from a working-class background, it was not an easy path to the top.
Gail’s father was a postman and her mother was a refugee from the Nazi-occupied Channel Islands. Gail was proud of her father, a union member, like everyone working for the Post Office then.
Gail grew up in a council house — and the issue of access to decent housing is close to her heart. “It was post-war Britain and Labour had come into power, giving us the NHS and decent council homes, ending the misery of living in slums so many had had to endure. That’s the difference a Labour government made to an entire generation.
“We still needed two shillings for the meter — and we had a tin bath we brought in and set down in front of the fire — but it was very much better than what had gone before.
“When my father was told that he could buy his council house he replied, ‘Whatever for? Another family could make good use of this house when we’re gone. No,’ he said, ‘they’ll have to carry me out feet first.’ And that’s exactly what they did. Those were the values of his generation.”
London’s West End was the place to be in 1970 — and Gail got a job as an apprentice hairdresser and then worked in Debenhams department store in Wigmore Street, opposite Wigmore Hall.
Aged 20 she got a job in publishing — where something that would change her life happened.
“All was going well and then I found out that the man working next to me — doing the same work, was paid more than me — just because he had a wife.”
Gail was mystified by this. It was 1975 and shortly before the Equal Pay Act of 1970 was supposed to be fully implemented. Gail in a brave move, went to ask HR if there had been some mistake in her pay.
“HR said there had been no mistake — my colleague was married and that qualified him for a higher rate. So I said what if I was married — would I get a higher rate too? No, was the reply. Because you wouldn’t have a wife.”
There was a clear injustice going on against women throughout the country. Gail says there still is.
“It’s still different pay rates for millions of women — despite it being 50 years since the Equal Pay Act came in. The gender pay gap is still affecting lives.”
Gail calls this “a lightbulb moment. I knew about racism, anti-semitism, homophobia — but a pay gap based on gender genuinely came as a complete shock.”
She turned to her father for advice.
“He said, ‘Don’t moan at me — join a union’!” she laughs. Gail joined one of Unite’s heritage unions and from that day to this, has never looked back.
Through the Communist Party of Great Britain, Gail was to meet the man who became her inspiration and mentor, the legendary Solly Kaye. Solly died in 2005, but the anti-fascist leader who defeated Mosley in the Battle of Cable Street, 1936, taught Gail unequivocally that through collective action, lives could be changed for the better.
And it was in her next job, in the graphical sector, that Gail found that being active in a union could bring about the sort of changes Solly spoke of and which were desperately needed for workers throughout Britain.
“I joined the National Graphical Association — the NGA,” (another Unite heritage union) “and it was my first big union experience. I met some brilliant people who had new ideas on what working should actually be like.”
Gail made friendships that have lasted a lifetime — including with her friend and fellow union campaigner, Megan Dobney.
In fact Gail was to become the union’s top rep in her workplace — or mother of chapel as they say in the print trade.
“Becoming mother of chapel in an almost entirely male workforce was an exceptional honour for me,” says Gail.
During the apartheid regime, Gail’s chapel triggered the expulsion of the South African Typographical Union from the International Graphical Federation.
Her deep commitment to equalities, collectivism and internationalism has seen her work in the West Bank and Gaza during the first Intifada and also share platforms with democracy campaigners in Iraq, Iran, Palestine and Turkey.
Gail has always been a courageous speaker for those whose voices are not heard. She visited a Colombian women’s prison to meet jailed women trade union leaders in what was the most dangerous of nations to be in a trade unionist.
She was a key contributor to Britain’s disability champions’ scheme and most recently has been involved in the fight to stop violence against women — a hideous and overlooked side effect of the Covid-19 lockdown.
As for her year of TUC presidency Gail says she wants to focus on two key themes. First to encourage more women to become active in their trade unions and secondly to protect and promote the importance of young people in the workplace and help them become active in their unions.
Gail says her favourite quote is “Sisters lift as you rise,” from the African-American activist, Angela Davis. She believes that many women who have become leaders or who have done well in their careers suffer from what she calls the “imposter syndrome.”
"Palestine: from Apartheid to Freedom, Justice and Equality"
Labour Party conference fringe 2021, "Palestine: from Apartheid to Freedom, Justice and Equality"
- Dr. Yara Hawari
- Yasmine Ahmed Human Rights Watch UK
- Gail Cartmail TUC
- Jo Grady UCU
- Kevin Courtney NEU
- Mariela Kohon TUC
- Ben Jamal Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
"Has First Past the Post worked for workers"
Politics for the many.
Labour Party conference fringe 2021, "Has First Past the Post worked for workers"
- Sam Tarry MP
- Julie Ward former MEP
- Gail Cartmail TUC
- James Beckles UNISON
- Julia Vaughn ASLEF
- Pauline McCarthy Labour NEC
- Caroline Osborne Labour for a New Democracy.
"Socialism, work, technology and the struggle for jobs"
Communist Review No 99, Spring 2021 "Future of Work: Socialism, work, technology and the struggle for jobs" by Gail Cartmail, Michael Roberts, Leo Impett, Ursula Huws, Andrew Maybury, Roger McKenzie, Tony Burke, Sarah Woolley, Keith Ewing, Andy Bain and the Communist Party Future of Work Group.
Communist Party of Britain centenary conference August 1, 2020
Science, technology, the future of work
- Gail Cartmail Assistant general secretary Unite the Union
- Ursula Huws Professor of Labour and Globalisation at the University of Hertfordshire
- Hilary Wainwright Sociologist, activist and editor of Red Pepper magazine
- Victor Figueroa Lead researcher in new technology and the future of work at International Transport Workers’ Federation
Defend Democracy in Bolivia
MPs and Lords from the Labour Party, SNP and Sinn Fein, as well as nine trade union leaders and solidarity activists across the UK, sign a letter in support of Bolivian democracy ahead of this weekend's election.
Despite all of this, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) is ahead in the polls ahead of the presidential election due to be held on October 18th, after numerous delays.
There are fears that these elections will not be free or fair and that right-wing, anti-democratic forces will once again seek to deny Bolivians their wish to build a progressive and democratic country.
We, the undersigned, therefore express our support for all those struggling for democracy, human rights, equality and social progress in Bolivia.
Signatories included Gail Cartmail , President, TUC.
The Trade Union Congress in 2005 agreed that the TUC should organise a trade union delegation to meet and build links with Venezuelan trade unionists as part of its solidarity with the Venezuelan people and opposition to outside interference in the social achievements of the government. After consulting with unions, it was agreed in October that the General Council delegation should be balanced, representative and accountable and include a spread of unions. This document reports on the visit of a TUC General Council delegation to Venezuela, 21-26 May, led by Deputy General Secretary Frances O'Grady. Other members of the delegation were: Barry Camfield, Gail Cartmail and Jeremy Dear of the General Council; Keith Sonnet, Deputy General Secretary, Unison; and Simon Steyne, TUC. Liam Craig-Best and Mariela Kohon of Justice for Colombia provided interpretation.