Sharon Graham, the recently elected general secretary of Unite, says current union industrial disputes will have to take priority over attendance at next week’s Labour conference in Brighton.

Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “From day one of the general secretary election campaign I said I wanted the union to get back to what it says on the trade union tin - fighting for jobs pay and conditions. That is what I am doing now. My members in dispute must be my first priority."

Unite currently has more than 20 on-going industrial disputes. These include nationwide action on pay from drivers at Tesco, fighting fire and rehire tactics by Weetabix, and two smaller potential strikes of locksmiths - one in Wolverhampton and one in Scunthorpe.

Sharon Graham added: “At this time, my place is with workers and my members. So next week I’ll be on picket lines where my members are taking industrial action and not at Labour conference in Brighton."

Sharon Graham says emphatically that this is not a snub to Keir Starmer. It is simply a question of deciding on priorities.

She said: “I am literally only four weeks into my leadership and my job has to be focused on defending workers. I had a useful meeting with Keir earlier this week and told him it was unlikely I would be at conference. I said I would be doing the day job to try to make sure workers don’t pay the price of the pandemic."

The Unite delegation at Labour conference will be led by the Unite executive council chair, Tony Woodhouse and national political lead, Rob MacGregor. They will be fully briefed about the business of Labour conference and play a full leadership role with the approval of the general secretary.

The sudden rule changes on election of the leader and constituency Labour Party rules, which it now seems are going to be proposed at conference, have already been discussed by the general secretary and the delegation leaders.

On the proposals to discuss major rule changes at the coming conference, Sharon Graham noted: “Given what is happening to workers and communities, surely this is not the time to talk about process – about the detail of Labour rules for election of the leader and selection of Labour candidates and the like.  We should be focusing on the ‘here and now’ on real issues, like fire and rehire. I believe huge debates about rules now is a mistake."


During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235.

Email: [email protected]

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Unite is the UK and Ireland’s leading union fighting to protect and advance jobs, pay and conditions for members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.