Eleanor Marx Award

Do you know an inspiring GMB woman member or rep whose activism and commitment deserves to be recognised?

Nominations have closed

Nominations for the Eleanor Marx Award 2023 are now closed - and will reopen in early 2024 for the Eleanor Marx Award 2024. Come back to this page to nominate then

Do you know an inspiring GMB woman member or rep whose activism and commitment deserves to be recognised?

Is there an outstanding woman activist in your branch or workplace?

There are so many women throughout our union doing amazing work who don't get the recognition they deserve.

Whether it’s campaigning for safer working conditions through the pandemic, or leading the fight for the fair and equal pay that GMB members deserve, we want to recognise the GMB women across the country who have inspired you.

All GMB members can nominate a woman for this award and it's easy to do - just look out for the simple nomination form in 2024.

Your nomination will be verified by your region, and then judged by a panel including GMB National President Barbara Plant. The successful candidate will receive the award at GMB Congress.

Please note that GMB officers/employees cannot be nominated.

Who was Eleanor Marx?

Eleanor Marx was born on the 16th of January 1855. She spent her life fighting to improve the living standards of working class people, was a leading light in the struggle for women’s rights and was central in the founding of our union.

In 1889, at the age of 34, Eleanor worked alongside Will Thorne in setting up the Gas and General Workers Union in Beckton, East London. Eleanor is often credited with teaching Will to read and write.

Over 800 gas workers joined the union on the day of its launch. In just two weeks over 3,000 signed up, rallying behind the demand for an eight hour working day.

Eleanor went on to set up the first women’s branch of the union and was unanimously elected to the executive in 1891. She then began organising in the struggle of women workers in east London’s rubber industry - a dispute involving thousands of workers.

In honour of Eleanor, GMB designated the 16th of January - her birthday - as ‘Eleanor Marx Day’.

Previous Winners - Annette Drylie, Jo Smith and Gemma Wilkinson

In 2022 we awarded three Eleanor Marx Awards - recognising the fantastic work undertaken by three activists throughout the pandemic and since our last in-person Congress in 2019.

Eleanor Marx Award

Annette Drylie

Annette is an inspirational woman to many within the movement and has been at the heart of what we have been doing in GMB Scotland for many years. Annette leads on the Equality agenda in GMB Scotland and is the branch secretary of the Fife Public Services branch. Within Fife Council her organising has seen the introduction of Reasonable Adjustment Passports, Menopause Policy and Period Policy helping thousands of council workers. Annette has been at the forefront of the continued fight for pay justice in Fife against discriminatory pay practices, initiating and engaging around a third wave of equal pay claims.

Annette’s work on GMB Scotland’s Equality Forum and through the STUC Women’s Committee has seen her support and develop activists and events as well as making sure that the Equalities agenda is embedded in the industrial agenda. Annette is a fighter, who wouldn’t ever think of taking a step backwards when it comes to defending her members.

Jo Smith

In 2020 and 2021, Jo lead the first ever Neurodiversity campaign in the country for the GMB – at her employer, the South East Coast Ambulance Service. Jo organised neurodivergent workers by reaching out to them and telling their stories on social media. The stories told of the huge day-to-day impact of the lack of adaptations for neurodivergent workers - our members really engaged with these stories. Jo organised infographics about each neurodivergent condition and ensured info was highlighted in members; workplaces by coordinating several branch reps who were also neurodivergent. Jo oversaw an amazing rise in recruitment – of around 100 new members to the GMB and 2 new reps, both who identified as neurodivergent. On top of all this, Jo negotiated with the trust and chief executive a neurodiversity charter to ensure our members would be supported at every step of their employment with SECAmb.

Jo was an instrumental contributor to the reps working group for the national GMB Neurodiversity: Thinking Different at Work toolkit - and her campaign was used as best practice nationally as the first full GMB neurodiversity campaign. Jo highlights that women are statistically less likely to be recognised and diagnosed with a neurodivergent condition, and blogged her entire experience of the challenges of being a undiagnosed neurodivergent worker. Through the workplace charter, funding was obtained for staff like Jo to gain diagnosis as adult diagnosis of some conditions is not available on the NHS. Jo has been the voice of the neurodivergent workers and fought in a really emotional campaign to make a difference to our everyday members - all during the COVID-19 crisis.

Gemma Williamson

Gemma Williamson is a GMB rep at Airedale Hospital. In 2021, Gemma worked alongside officers, reps and members to secure a significant pay win for outsourced NHS workers employed by the hospital's wholly-owned subsidiary, AGH Solutions (AGHS). During the dispute she stepped up to join the negotiation team as a fearless voice for the workers. Gemma was straight-talking and unprepared to accept management's cries of poverty. In one meeting, she called out the crass attempts by management to endear themselves to workers, declaring: "Members don't want your chocolate bars, they want a pay rise and they're prepared to take action to get it."

Throughout the campaign Gemma was on the ground listening and speaking to workers about the dispute, building confidence and momentum ahead of industrial action. Gemma was fundamental to this campaign, inspiring new and long-standing members with her determination and refusal to accept anything less than what members were calling for - parity with their colleagues employed by the NHS. Since our members' success in achieving victory at Airedale, Gemma has stepped up within K40 Branch, becoming K40's first female and black branch President. She continues to be a brilliant advocate for members in disciplinary and grievance hearings, as well as in ongoing negotiations with AGHS for even better terms and conditions.

Previous Winners - Taranjit Chana, London

The best way to introduce Taranjit is through the words of the many people who nominated her for the Eleanor Marx Award.

“Taranjit is a good sister. She works tirelessly to help to eradicate prejudices on all equality fronts. Her life in general is geared to change the views of people to be all inclusive. She works really hard in everything she does, but still has time for everyone. She has been a very instrumental person in mobilising people especially women in getting active in their union. Taranjit is unstinting in her commitment for fighting for justice and fairness for ordinary and oppressed peoples.”

Taranjit does all of the following: raising the profile of the GMB, organising, leading, recruiting, inspiring, delivering training, oranising marches; volunteering at women’s refuges, giving up her spare time to give free advice on the radio for Asian women, campaigning for LGBT plus championing women’s rights in the workplace, visiting and taking aid to Calais, working as a volunteer and helping women survivors of domestic violence.

She has been actively involved in different campaigns to make the working conditions of people better. She is Chair of GMB Race and a member of the GMB National Equality Forum. She designed and delivered training to workplace reps and organised and delivered the GMB Women’s Conference. She is always happy to give support and advice and guidance to others at conferences and Congress.

There is just so much she gets through on a weekly basis - we are starting to think she is actually a family of triplets.

We are all so proud of this unassuming woman and her tremendous achievements. We would be lost without her - we are so lucky to have her.

Previous Winners - Sarah Louise James, Birmingham & West Midlands

Described as ‘Birmingham’s Inspirational Woman’ for the crucial role she has played in championing women’s rights and encouraging and inspiring new women activists to become active.

Sarah's passion and commitment has played a big part in the launch and success of the Birmingham Organised Sisters' Society (BOSS) since 2014.

Sarah has been instrumental in leading our equality-focused social media profile at a regional level for BOSS, as well as the GMB National Women’s Facebook account.

Sarah sat on the GMB National Equality Forum from 2017 to 2021, when she stood down to make way for other women leaders. In 2022 Sarah became a GMB full-time organiser.

Previous Winners - Shona Thomson, Scotland

Shona Thomson, a homecare worker for 18 years and GMB branch secretary, was the inspirational driving force leading the fight for Equal Pay in Glasgow in 2018. When the women - who are carers, cleaners and cooks - felt there was little or no progress her tenacity and fight kept the campaign on track.

For Shona the spur for striking goes beyond the headline issue of equal pay but also the fact that low-paid woman endure the fear about losing their jobs, increased workloads, pressure and split shifts.

This campaign ultimately led to the largest strike for Equal Pay in British history and made news nationally and internationally.

Shona was a key factor in organising the lead up to the industrial action. She took a lead role supporting members during the action. A win was achieved and now some 14,000 claimants will have claims settled.

Previous Winners - Sarah Kelly, Yorkshire & North Derbyshire

Sarah has been pivotal in telling her story around her sexual assault by a patient in the ambulance whilst on duty.

Through her branch a campaign was started called Protect the Protectors with the help and support of Holly Lynch MP and Chris Bryant MP to produce a bill that calls for a new offence of assaulting an emergency worker, new sentencing guidance, and new powers to take bodily samples from suspects.

The 'Protect the Protectors' law has received Royal Assent. Find out more about the Protect the Protectors' campaign here.

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