Belfast Telegraph

Patricia McKeown: Tenacious union boss who called the action

By Noel McAdam

The woman who brought thousands of health and education workers out on strike is said to eat, drink and sleep trade unionism.

Patricia McKeown has come under sustained pressure over the fact that only one in seven Unison members actually voted for industrial action.

She has been a trade unionist for three decades and for many years she was assistant to the equally formidable Inez McCormack. McKeown has a tenacity which has led some critics to characterise her as prone to being “hot-headed”.

Adamantly she refuses to disclose her salary level and also to give her age, areas which for her cross the boundary into personal.

She regularly works an 80-hour week and has long been regarded as a strong negotiator.

She had trade unionism instilled into her from childhood.

“I learned it at my parents’ knees,” she said.

Her late father, Charles, worked in Ulster Television and her mother Sarah — who was out on the picket lines with her daughter yesterday — was a health worker and long-time union member.

Patricia’s own career started in the private sector, working for a solicitors’ firm — where she found it difficult to organise people and have workplace issues dealt with.

She describes Unison as “a trade union which is a real agent of social change, both at home and on [an] international basis.”

McKeown is also proud of introducing a life-long learning programme which thousands of Unison members have benefited from.

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