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Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 16:18 GMT
GMB's Northern power broker

Paul Kenny and Kevin Curran are the leading candidates to succeed John Edmonds as leader of one of Britain's largest unions, the GMB. BBC News Online has exclusive interviews with both.

Kevin Curran is the well-regarded boss of the Northern region of the GMB.

He is believed to have the support of Mr Edmonds, and also the backing of many Labour MPs from the North, where he has been instrumental in fighting to save jobs at the Tyneside shipyards.

The government has departed from the values that union members recognise

Kevin Curran, GMB
He says that he is a socialist, but he will work with anyone who can help his union's cause.

Mr Curran has experience of working around the country, and began his union career in the London region with Mr Kenny.

He is running on the same platform with Debbie Coulter, who is standing for deputy general secretary, and - if elected - would be the first woman to hold the post.

Mr Curran comes from one of the smaller sections of the GMB, the boilermakers, who are skilled workers. Many other GMB members work in the public sector on low wages.

Mr Curran's platform includes a "membership-led review of the GMB's relationship with government," compulsory private pensions, and a minimum wage of £5 per hour, rising to £5.40 in October 2003.


Kevin Curran was born in East London in 1954.

Rival Paul Kenny, head of GMB's London region
He left school to train as a welder, working first in East London and then around the country, installing boilers in power stations.

He first became involved in union activity as a shop steward when he took up the issue of asbestos, gaining clean conditions for the workforce after a walkout at the Thurrock Power Station.

Mr Curran won a trade union bursary to study at the London School of Economics in 1979, but found conditions in the industry very different when he tried to return to his previous occupation.

He was effectively black-listed by the employers, and found it impossible to find work as a welder. After 6 months of unemployment, he got a job (through the GMB) on a job training scheme teaching others welding skills - rising eventually to run the project.

In 1988, he joined the GMB as a full-time health and safety officer in the London region, working with his future rival, Paul Kenny.

Northern adjustment

Mr Curran, however, moved to the Southern region as a trade union organiser, before rising quickly to head the Northern region of the GMB in 1997.

A protégé of Mr Edmonds, his job was to modernise that region after the previous regional secretary was forced out.

He has praised Mr Edmonds as "a hard act to follow" and pledged to continue his campaign against the privatisation of public services.

He says he found the adjustment to the Northern region difficult, but that he now has the strength of having worked in 3 very different GMB regions.

His key achievement in Newcastle has been securing ship-building work from the government, who now are expected to build the next generation of aircraft carriers in the Tyneside yards.

Against privatisation

In an article in Tribune, the Labour left newspaper, Mr Curran has made it clear that he is opposed to further privatisation of public services.

"Our members understand the private sector because they work in it. When a private company has to choose between profit margins and providing a first class public service, they will choose the former. They always do. It is called capitalism."

Mr Curran says he regrets the way that Labour has "departed from the values that union members recognise."

He says the government's lack of trust in unions is compounded by their lack of understanding of their role.

He argues that in a world which "has become increasingly disengaged, the union movement shines out as an example of the benefits of inclusiveness and democratic engagement."

Public pay battles

Leadership battles

Labour and the unions


See also:

29 Oct 02 | Business
10 Sep 02 | Politics
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