Unite members elect Sharon Graham as General Secretary to take on employers and Tories

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SHARON Graham yesterday was elected as general secretary of the Unite union to replace Len McCluskey securing 37.6% of the vote.

Graham, who was considered a rank outsider at the start of the campaign, defeated McCluskey’s preferred candidate Steve Turner.

The other candidate, who trailed in third, was right-winger Gerard Coyne who enjoyed the support of Labour leader Keir Starmer.

On a very low turn-out, Graham got 46,696 votes; Turner 41,833 votes and Coyne 35,334.

The significance of this result should not be underestimated.

Unite is the second biggest union in the country and the largest funder of the Labour Party.

Despite all his left rhetoric, the union under McCluskey has never once seriously challenged either the right-wing Labour leadership or the Tories.

Instead Unite, with a membership of 1.4 million, has been reduced to begging the Tories to come to the aid of the working class.

Its latest statement on the ending of the furlough scheme consisted of appealing to the Tory government to ‘think again’.

Turner, a Unite assistant general secretary, proved himself to be all in favour of reducing Unite to the status of advisor to the Tory government when he urged the Tories ‘not to scrap the scheme altogether but to adapt it.’

No wonder Turner was seen as a safe pair of hands to replace McCluskey!

Despite holding the purse strings of the Labour Party, (which is in a state of financial bankruptcy and threatening to sack its workforce) Unite has not once called for the removal of Starmer and for the Labour Party to fight to bring down the Tories.

The Unite leadership has merely criticised Starmer in words while leaving him free to wreck the Labour Party in practice.

In the event however, the succession of Turner was completely upended by the victory of Graham, who previously ran the Unite Organising and Leverage Department that dealt directly with taking on ‘hostile employers’ and branch organisation.

Unite members were clearly attracted by her stated aim of rebuilding the union ‘as a movement which delivers industrially and politically’.

Graham said: ‘My slogan all along has been “Back to the workplace” to build the union to fight for jobs, wages and conditions.’

Speaking on her election she repeated that ‘As general secretary I will put all the power of our union into defending their jobs, improving their pay and protecting their rights.’

On the issue of funding the Labour Party, Graham made clear during her campaign that she would not give the party a ‘blank cheque’ and wanted to see ‘payments by result’ and that Labour cannot be guaranteed Unite financial backing.

In fact, Unite members have long experienced the results of Labour’s betrayal of the working class as it has determinedly propped up this Tory government, refusing at every turn to even offer a token opposition to Boris Johnson while at the same time conducting purges against any remnants of socialist ideas in the Labour Party.

Unite members have clearly had enough of all the betrayals of the fight against ‘fire and rehire’, and the ceaseless attacks by the Tories and bosses on wages and conditions.

They have turned to Graham to make a clear break with the cowardly refusal to fight by the Unite leadership.

She must now make good on her election promises and come out fighting, organising the 1.2 million members to end all the Tory wage-cutting; defeat the ‘fire and re-hire’ campaign of the bosses; and lead the Unite union in a campaign to defeat and remove the Tories.

This campaign must start with kicking Starmer and the right-wing out of the Labour Party. Unite members are already demanding an end to the funding of the right wing leadership of the Labour Party, and a complete break with and removal of its treacherous leadership.

Immediately, the issue before Graham is to build the union around the demand for the TUC to call a general strike to kick out the Tories and go forward to a workers’ government that will expropriate the bosses and bring in a planned socialist economy. Only socialism can provide a future for every worker and young person today.