Sharon Graham Elected As Unite Union’s First Female General Secretary

Sharon Graham has been elected the first woman leader of the trade union Unite, ballot results leaked to HuffPost UK have confirmed.

Leftwinger Graham secured 46,696 votes in the race for general secretary, ahead of favourite Steve Turner on 41,833 votes. Centrist candidate Gerard Coyne came third with 35,334 votes.

With 124,147 votes cast in total, Graham’s share was 37.6%, Turner’s 33.7% and Coyne’s 28.5%. The turnout was around 12% of the one million members who were sent ballot papers.

The result marks a clean break with Len McCluskey’s 10-year reign at the head of the UK’s second biggest union, which has for years been Labour’s biggest donor.

McCluskey, who has been highly critical of Keir Starmer, had endorsed second placed Turner, who was his assistant general secretary and key ally.

Graham, who heads the union’s national network of organisers and was backed by the Socialist Workers Party and former Militant activists, has previously warned there will be “no blank cheque” for Labour if she won the contest.

Some senior figures within the party said they were relaxed about her election because she had campaigned to shift Unite’s focus away from Labour’s internal battles and towards the workplace.

But although Graham’s campaign slogan was “It’s Westminster versus the workplace: Back to the workplace”, it remains unclear how the union will use its influence on the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC).

Former Unite NEC rep Howard Beckett, who backed Turner but has been suspended from the party over a tweet calling for Priti Patel to be deported, staged one online walkout and had said it was time for Starmer to quit.

One senior union source said: “Sharon will be completely disinterested in Labour’s internal warfare. It’s all about the workplace now. If I were Keir, I’d be relieved the Len years are over.”

However, Graham has made clear she won’t let the union be taken for granted and told the BBC this summer she would operate “payment by results” to judge Starmer’s leadership on delivering workers’ rights.

The 51-year-old Londoner, who has been with the union and its predecessors for more than 20 years, led her first unofficial strike aged just 17, leading a successful walkout in protest at wages and working hours.

She has pledged to grow trade union membership in the private sector, securing better rights for workers at firms like Amazon and in the hospitality industry.

Unite’s executive council is still controlled by McCluskey’s United Left grouping and could have significant influence, insiders pointed out.

In a statement Graham said: “Our members expect their union to be in their corner so I was proud to stand on a manifesto that pledged to put our members and our workplaces first. I will deliver on those promises.

“As general secretary, I will put all the power of our union into defending their jobs, improving their pay and protecting their rights.

“Bad bosses take note. A strong Unite is the best defence that our members can have – my focus now is to build that strength.”

Grassroots group Momentum welcomed Graham’s victory, with co-chair Gaya Sriskanthan saying: “Unite members have made their voices heard. They want a union that organises, that builds power in the workplace, and that uses its leverage to take on bad bosses.”

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