A HUDDERSFIELD trade unionist hopes to lead more than a million workers.

Kirklees Unison branch secretary Paul Holmes is running for election as general secretary of the 1.3m-strong public sector union.

Voting got underway on Monday for the position, with the result to be announced on June 22.

The winner will become arguably the most important union leader in the country at a time when public spending cuts look certain to lead to industrial action.

Mr Holmes, a trade unionist since his first day of work 37 years ago, is confident he can defeat sitting Unison general secretary Dave Prentis.

“I’ve never lost an election where the members have voted,’’ he said. “I think this is an election to be won.”

Mr Holmes was a clerical worker at West Yorkshire County Council before it was abolished in 1986. He then moved to Kirklees, working as an assistant legal officer before winning election as branch secretary in 1998.

He said: “We have 8,500 members in the 11,000-strong workforce, which is the highest density of any Unison branch. We’ve built the membership by succeeding on issues like equal pay and maternity pay.”

Mr Holmes, 55, believes Unison needs to stand up to the new Conservative / Lib Dem Government.

The married father-of-two said: “Seeing David Cameron in Downing Street last week made me think of 1979. I think our members share that apprehension about what is coming for the public sector.

“The union lacks organisation to fight against what is coming. The local government pension scheme has 4.2m members, it’s the fourth biggest in the world and the bankers are looking for their pound of flesh.”

Mr Holmes has been campaigning for the general secretary position for months, speaking at meetings across the country, as far south as Guildford in Surrey.

“The reception has been great,” he said. “No matter what people’s accent, the problems they face are the same.”