OBV Profile: Gloria Mills

Since 1978 Mills has been a driving force in unions, campaigning for equality and justice for most of her career. Her endeavours were recognised when the general council of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) elected her to become the first black woman to lead the TUC, one of the biggest national workers unions in the country representing the rights of workers.

Her year long term saw her become a champion for diversity issues and equal opportunities in the work place regardless of race, gender, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation. She represented the TUC at the highest level in government meetings and internationally. As with all congress presidents, at the end of her term she became the congress’s vice president from 2006 to 2007.

Today Mills is the national secretary for Unison the biggest trade union in the country and is also a member of its senior management group. Much of her responsibility revolves around addressing and campaigning on issues related to equal pay, childcare, employment, immigration and human rights.

In addition to much of the above she has been on the board of the TUC General Council since 1994, has represented Unison on the executive committee since 2000; is chair of the TUC’s Race Relations Committee and is also a member of the editorial advisory board of Equal Opportunities Review.

Describing her work Mills says: “Not only do the TUC’s objectives ensure people achieve social justice and equality. But it’s also about international solidarity and changing the position of people in our communities and society.”

She adds: “In the trade union movement equality is an important principle and fighting for equality is something we’ve had to do for quite a number of years.”

Mills was instrumental in lobbying for an amendment to the European Union’s (EU) 1957 Amsterdam Treaty of Rome. The revisions to the treaty ensured that there were legal provisions to protect people on the grounds of race, disability, sexual orientation, age and religion, “to have legal redress if people are discriminated against in any EU country was very critical”.

Her beginnings in the trade unions began when she started working as an editorial assistant for a legal publishing firm in the 1970s. She describes this time as a period where people were jumping at the chance to join trade unions. While at the firm she says she joined the National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants (NSOPA) as a regional organiser. She was then elected as a Mother of the Chapel for the union which entailed negotiating rights on behalf of workers.

Mills says she saw a lot of discrimination in the work place, for example she argues women were being treated as second class citizens, “It was easier to say you had a problem with your car than to say you were having problems with your children” she says.

The ardent Arsenal fan became a regional organiser for the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) in London in 1985 and later a senior regional officer where she was responsible for representing employees in the public and private sector, helping represent them on their behalf in tribunals and disciplinaries.

In 1993 NUPE merged with COHSE (Confederation of Health Service Employees) and NALGO (National Association of Local Government Officers) to form the highly recognised trade union Unison. During that period she was appointed the director of Equal Opportunities for Unison, staying in the position for10 years.

Mills was born in Trinidad where she spent much of her formative years. She came to Britain in her late teens and says that although she was uprooted from one country to another she believes her strong educational foundations in the Caribbean helped her to settle in England.

Growing up her parents would tell her that she should always be resilient, resourceful but always have resolve. “Those are the three Rs my parents brought me up with because it’s determination that will help you to achieve, you can not afford to give up at the first hurdle,” she explains.

Mills, who has been a Labour Party member for over 25 years, believes that she has always been able to articulate her political views and sees herself as someone who has continually been politically active, whether it has been in trade unions or as an active citizen for social justice.

She was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) in 1999 for her work in the unions, and later honoured with a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 2005.

In 2002 she was selected as a trade union commissioner for the now defunct Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), a position she stayed in for over 4 years.

Mills says that through her work she aims to continue making equality a reality rather than a blank dream.

She believes that whatever you choose to do in life you need to make sure it has a positive wider impact for the majority of people you represent.

Speaking about what she wants to do in the future she comments: “I want to continue doing what I’m passionate about which is to fight for social progress, justice and equality. I also want to continue fighting in the trade union movement to ensure people get a living wage and people achieve equality and have opportunity to achieve their potential and ambition.”