Sharon Graham said the Labour leader must offer “hope” to workers “paying the price of the pandemic”, not reignite “old wars” within his party between Left and Right
Keir Starmer has “lost touch with reality” and must ditch his controversial last-minute bid to shake-up internal Labour Party rules, Unite leader Sharon Graham has said.
The boss of Britain’s most powerful trade union said the Labour leader should use the party’s conference in Brighton next week to “radiate hope” in the wake of Covid, but is instead reigniting Labour’s “old wars” between Left and Right.
The intervention comes after Mr Starmer drew the ire of Left-wing members with a bid to push through controversial internal party reforms.
They include ditching the one-member-one-vote leadership election rules which propelled Jeremy Corbyn to power for the old electoral college system and raising the threshold by which MPs can be ousted by their local party.
Ms Graham, who leads a union with around 1.3 million members, warned, however, that Britain faced an austerity-driven era “like 2008 on steroids” with workers “paying the price of the pandemic” in tax hikes and cuts to in-work benefits.
In an exclusive interview with the Mirror, the Unite boss also revealed amid the infighting she would snub Labour’s annual conference to be on the picket line with workers fighting ‘fire and rehire’ practices.
Workers were “in crisis”, she said, adding Mr Starmer should “step up to the plate”.
“It’s really important that Keir doesn’t focus only on attacking the Tories – he has to radiate hope,” said Ms Graham. “People need to feel what he says, that is part of being a leader.
“We need to give people hope.”
She added: “If Labour are there to defend workers and communities, it feels like there is not a cohesive plan on what that looks like.”
The Unite boss urged Mr Starmer to shelve party reform for another year, adding she was “bemused” and “disappointed” by the eleventh-hour plan to switch rules, saying: “I wasn’t even angry, I was bemused. It’s sort of felt like they’ve lost touch with reality. Who thinks this is a good idea? It’s just strange.”
She said: “Why are we discussing this trivia at this present moment in time? Put in a box and talk about this later. We’re in crisis.”
Highlighting that key workers faced tax hikes and a cut to in-work benefits while Chancellor Rishi Sunak would delay corporation tax hikes to 2023, she said: “It looks like it’s going to be 2008 on steroids. This is really sizing up to be the workers paying the price again.
“The labour movement should be focused on stopping the workers paying for pandemic and making sure communities do not get get into a desperate state, which is what happened after the 2008 crash.
“We weren’t focused after the 2008 crash and we need now to be focused.”
Warning Mr Starmer Labour could be “walking ourselves into disaster” by reigniting battles between the party’s Left and Right, she called for an end to Labour infighting.
She said: “It’s almost like this is a war that keeps going on.
“Why are we in this old war? What is this all about really? If I ever saw the internal wrangles of Labour again, it would be too soon.”
She added: “I’m astounded that we’re even having a conversation about rule changes. We we have a crisis going on in the economy and for workers.
“Rule changes should be the last thing. People are going to be scratching their heads thinking: what are they doing. People will wonder, where is the essence of this conference?”
She said Labour must unite on fighting low pay, “bad bosses” and poor working conditions.
“If you want people to see Labour as relevant, talk about the issues that are facing them,” she told the Labour leader.
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