Super-Union Leader Explains Donation Cut-Off to Cash-Strapped Labour Party
22:01 GMT 04.12.2021 (Updated: 15:24 GMT 28.05.2023)
Sharon Graham was the surprise winner of Unite's leadership election in August. She pledged to keep the union out of Labour's internal squabbles and vowed that there would be "no more blank cheques" for Kier Starmer's party.
The leader of Britain's biggest trade union has detailed its decision to cut donations to the cash-strapped Labour Party — and explained how it will spend the money elsewhere.
Unite's General Secretary Sharon Graham broke the news to The Guardian on Thursday that, while the union would keep up its £1 million per year in affiliation fees to Labour, it would spend its hefty political fund elsewhere.
In an interview published on Saturday with party insider website LabourList
she went into additional detail about the union's dissatisfaction with Keir Starmer's leadership.
"I said to Keir Starmer when I met him in this office, I find it disappointing – and I'm being diplomatic – I find it disappointing that Labour are not coming out far more robustly in terms of what's happening to workers and communities", Graham said.
"I said to him, 'look, my conversations with you will not be about the internal machinations of Labour, it will be about practical things that Labour should be doing in order to drive forward what's happening to workers'", she pointed out.
"And obviously, I said to him that I think that they are not stepping up to the plate as far as workers are concerned".
Graham said that the union had been giving the Labour head office an "awful lot of money on top of the affiliation fee" from its political fund, a sum that was "staggering, sometimes, in its nature".
While the general secretary did not quote a figure, it was reported in 2019 that the union had donated a whopping £3 million to Labour's campaign fund for that December's general election.
In the future, Graham said, Unite would grant money to individual political campaigns closer to its members' needs.
"If we do that, the politicians will take notice", Graham stressed. "The politicians will take note, because their constituents are taking note. And that really is the people who gets them in. So for me, I'm going that way round".
21 November 2021, 19:47 GMT
Graham was announced as the surprise winner
of the Unite leadership election in August. She pledged to keep the union apart from Labour's internal political battles — unlike her predecessor Len McClusky — and vowed there would be "no more blank cheques" for the party.
Labour, meanwhile, is facing a financial crisis
thanks to falling membership since Starmer's election in April and millions spent on legal fees and compensation payments over leaked portions of an unpublished report into allegations of anti-Semitism within the party.
Unite is one of two unions whose members have voted to strike
over 90 redundancies at Labour's Westminster head office — announced in a bid to keep party finances afloat.
A further blow was the BFAWU food workers' union vote to disaffiliate from Labour, coinciding with the party conference in September over the party's expulsion of its national president, for links to a proscribed left-wing group.
The Unite leader was also critical of Starmer's lacklustre performance against UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative government.
"There's a difference between intervening in politics and driving it", Graham said. "The intervention stuff a lot of the time is comment, it's all gratuitous comments, and quite frankly I don't know what it delivers. It's almost like putting a press release out. People might feel good for five minutes, but it doesn't deliver anything".
Regarding issues like health and social care, "I couldn't tell you what they're saying on it, because I can't hear it", she said.
Graham said Starmer's surprise Shadow Cabinet reshuffle
this week was more about personalities than politics.
"If I was giving him advice, I would say that he needs to come out very strongly, and they need to have a lot more consistency in what they're saying", she remarked. "It feels a little bit like the agenda has been led by the day. And that is never a good thing".