Union Boss Threatens to Cut Funding Over UK Labour Party’s Stance on Strikes

By Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
August 1, 2022 Updated: August 1, 2022

The UK Labour Party’s biggest union donor has threatened to withdraw funding from the party over its refusal to support strike actions.

In an interview with The Observer newspaper, Sharon Graham, general secretary of the Unite union, said Labour is becoming “irrelevant to workers” and the party’s leadership under Sir Keir Starmer is in effect “sticking two fingers up” at workers with its response to strike action and its abandonment of pledges to renationalise public utilities.

She warned that she is finding it difficult to justify continuing to fund Labour through affiliation fees.

She said: “There’s no point giving money to a party that is basically sticking two fingers up to workers. It’s almost like an abusive relationship. You are the voice of workers in Westminster; we are their voice on the ground.”

Unite is Labour’s biggest union donor. It is still donating to the party more than £1 million annually, though the funding has decreased since Starmer replaced the far-left Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

In-Fighting

Labour, the main opposition party in the British Parliament, is embroiled in intensifying in-fighting within its ranks, which was triggered by the rail strikes organised by the Rail, Maritime, and Transport (RMT) union and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA).

Starmer instructed members of Labour’s shadow cabinet to stay away from picket lines during the strikes, but the party’s shadow transport minister Sam Tarry defied the order and joined striking workers on July 27.

Epoch Times Photo
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer delivers a speech on Labour’s plans for growing the UK economy in Liverpool on July 25, 2022. (Danny Lawson/PA Media)

Labour subsequently sacked Tarry, accusing him of having breached “collective responsibility” by booking himself onto media programmes without permission and making up policy without consultation.

The sacking was met with fury by trade unions and the left-wing of the Labour Party.

Former Labour shadow minister John McDonnell described it as a “severe mistake.”

In the Observer interview, Graham said Labour must “stop being embarrassed to be the party for workers.”

Starmer has also been criticised by the unions and the left-wing of his party for scrapping Labour’s pledge to renationalise rail, the Royal Mail, energy, and water in its 2019 election manifesto.

The pledge was made by the last Labour leadership led by Jeremy Corbyn. But after Starmer replaced Corbyn as party leader after the election, he repeatedly committed to the pledge.

Talking to Labour activists in Liverpool last week, Starmer defended his change of stance on nationalisation, stressing that his post-COVID-19 pandemic mission is “growth.”

“I take a pragmatic approach rather than an ideological one,” he said.

Lily Zhou contributed to this report.