South Tyneside MPs react to Unite general secretary election outcome
South Tyneside’s Labour MPs have congratulated the new leader of the UK and Ireland’s largest trade union, after a historic election victory.
Sharon Graham is set to be named the new general secretary of Unite, appearing to have pulled off a stunning win by a margin of more than 5,000 votes.
In the initial count, Ms Graham comfortably beat both Steve Turner, who secured 41,833 votes overall, and Gerard Coyne, who received 35,334 votes. Unite said a total of 124,147 votes were cast.
The ballot was triggered by Len McCluskey’s decision to stand down as general secretary, which was announced last year.
Unite holds a significant voting block at Labour’s annual conference and is the party’s largest financial backer – although the future of this arrangement has been thrown into doubt over recent months by Mr McCluskey as well as by Ms Graham on the campaign trail, as she argued that the union’s ‘obsession’ with Labour needed to come to an end.
Ms Graham has warned there will be no ‘blank cheques’ for current Labour leader, Keir Starmer, under her premiership and suggested that party candidates without experience of union organising may not be able to count on Unite’s funding or support going forward.
She has also pledged to: introduce a new Shop Steward Support Scheme, which includes 24-hour bargaining advice for night shift reps; ramp up industrial organisation within the union, targeting what she calls ‘critical firms’, like Amazon; and make Ireland’s Unite branch an ‘equal partner’ in determining how members’ funds are spent.
She campaigned for Steve Turner to succeed Mr McCluskey, but has lavished high praise on Ms Graham after she made history by becoming the union’s first ever female general secretary.
“Huge congratulations to Sharon Graham on her win in the Unite General Secretary election,” she said.
“Commiserations to my friend and comrade Steve Turner, too. Sharon is a fantastic organiser and campaigner and it is great to have a woman leading the UK’s biggest and best union.
“I look forward to working with all my Unite family moving forward.”
South Shields MP, Emma Lewell-Buck, has backed a number of Unite campaigns – including its drive urging the Government to maintain the now-cut £20 uplift to Universal Credit – but remained comparatively reticent in the lead-up to the general secretary election.
Following the result, she told The Gazette: “As the only woman on the Labour Party’s shortlist for the MP seat back in 2013 I know how difficult internal elections can be.
"I want to congratulate Sharon on her victory and I look forward to working with her and seeing the positive difference she will make for working people in South Shields and beyond.”