Labour distances itself from new Unite leader after it emerges she once vowed to break the law in fight for workers’ rights
Sir Keir Starmer was forced to distance himself from Labour’s biggest union backer last night after its new Left-wing boss vowed to break the law to bring employers to heel if necessary.
The Labour leader was compelled to disown a 2019 threat by new Unite general secretary Sharon Graham to work ‘outside the law’ to win industrial disputes.
Embarrassingly for Sir Keir, it came just days after he congratulated Ms Graham on her election win and stressed how much he was looking forward to ‘working together to improve the lives of working people’.
The Labour leader was compelled to disown a 2019 threat by new Unite general secretary Sharon Graham (about) to work ‘outside the law’ to win industrial disputes
Last night, Sir Keir – a former Director of Public Prosecutions – was challenged to go further and pledge to take no donations from the union if Ms Graham pressed ahead with her ‘old-style, militant tactics’.
Arch Left-winger Ms Graham, 52, was elected last week to succeed veteran Unite boss Len McCluskey in a contest seen as crucial for Sir Keir’s future as Labour leader.
Unite is the party’s biggest financial backer, handing over millions of pounds in recent years, although under Starmer critic Mr McCluskey, it cut back on donations last year.
Although not the preferred candidate of Starmer allies, Ms Graham – the first woman to run the union and its 1.2 million members – was seen as a welcome break from Mr McCluskey’s ‘plotting’ within Labour against Sir Keir and on behalf of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.
But Sir Keir faced an immediate problem after comments came to light of just how militant the new Unite boss could be.
Sir Keir Starmer was forced to distance himself from Labour’s biggest union backer last night after its new Left-wing boss vowed to break the law to bring employers to heel if necessary
Addressing a National Shop Stewards Movement Conference in 2019, Ms Graham declared that ‘we are facing the biggest wage stagnation since Napoleon’ before signalling that unions should be ready to break the law.
She said: ‘We will and we want to work within the law. But if we are forced to work outside the law, then that is what we are going to have to do if we are going to defend workers and we will be doing that.’
In a TUC conference in 2020, Ms Graham talked about how the union movement needed to build ‘strike-ready workplaces’.
Labour moved to distance Sir Keir from Ms Graham’s 2019 comments, saying: ‘Like the vast majority of trade unionists, Keir Starmer and the Labour Party support the rule of law and trade unions campaigning and organising within it.’
But the union boss defiantly stuck by her remarks last night.
A spokesman said: ‘Workers across the UK are currently being attacked in an unprecedented way through the use of “fire and rehire” threats from a huge number of employers.
‘Sharon Graham makes no apology whatsoever for defending workers.’
The Mail on Sunday has already revealed how Unite’s leverage department, which Ms Graham ran, devised a confidential plan to target the family of chemicals tycoon Sir Jim Ratcliffe in a bitter 2013 industrial dispute. She insisted she had not written the plan but made no apologies for targeting entrepreneurs’ families in some cases.
Tory party co-chairman Amanda Milling said last night: ‘No ifs, no buts, Keir Starmer must unequivocally condemn the use of these intimidatory tactics and disassociate himself with calls to break the law from Labour’s top donor. And he should say whether he will continue to take Unite’s cash if they press ahead with these sinister plans.’
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