Sharon Graham speaking to striking Liverpool dockers. Photo: Liverpool Socialist Party
Sharon Graham speaking to striking Liverpool dockers. Photo: Liverpool Socialist Party

Kevin Parslow, Socialist Party member in Unite

2023 will be an important year in Unite. Branches and committees are drafting and discussing motions for policy conference, and will later debate possible changes to the rules.

But before these conferences in July, there will be the elections for a new Executive Council (EC) for the union, the first since Sharon Graham became general secretary in August 2021.

Sharon Graham has been a fierce opponent of the bosses and government.

She recently said: “This UK government is presiding over a broken economy that works just for the rich and not for everyday people. The truth is that it is bandit capitalism that’s holding the country to ransom.”

Resisting the onslaught

During her period in office, Unite members have been backed in resisting the onslaught of the bosses, first through ‘fire and rehire’ – attacks on terms and conditions – then through fighting for cost-of-living pay rises.

The first steps have been taken to establish combines in a number of industries and sectors of the economy, bringing together shop stewards and activists to campaign on common issues.

The union has taken on Labour-run authorities, most notably with the victory of refuse workers in Coventry against the council. Unite now has a policy demanding that Labour councils propose legal, needs-based no-cuts budgets.

Under Sharon’s leadership, Unite has placed itself on the fighting wing of the trade union movement. Of the 450 strikes called in her period of office, a large proportion has been in one workplace or a few.

However Unite has been involved in national disputes, as a minority union, including on the railways and Transport for London, and has called ballots in health and local government.

In local government, although the pay offer was accepted by the other unions, 75% of Unite members rejected it, and the union has reserved the right to call local disputes on pay when there is demand, like in Coventry.

To build on this, the union needs the election of an EC that leads officers to support and take forward this strategy for building the union. Only a small number of current EC members backed Sharon for general secretary. Most of the rest, and all ten of the union’s regional secretaries, promoted Steve Turner, the candidate of the union’s United Left group, which has been the dominant force on the EC since Unite’s formation.

However, Steve favoured working closely with Keir Starmer, the Labour leader.


It is correct that Sharon has been critical of Starmer and it is vital that Unite continues to put pressure on Labour at national and local levels. Socialist Party members in Unite will keep arguing that the union needs to be at the fore of building a working-class political alternative to Starmer’s New Labour.

Sharon’s strategy of organising and building in the workplace has been important in the strikes that Unite has called in her period of office. This needs to be built on and expanded.

Unite must be to the fore in the fight for mass coordinated strike action against the cost-of-living squeeze and Sunak’s planned new Tory anti-union laws. 

This means electing an EC which can implement Unite’s programme and make Unite a fighting force for socialist ideas.

Fighting candidates

Socialist Party members in Unite campaigned for Sharon’s victory. We have been prominent in calling for a new left, fighting organisation in the union, which would be democratic and discuss the socialist ideas needed to take workers forward. Unfortunately, despite there being opportunities to do so, this has not yet materialised. This is still an important step to be taken. Nevertheless, through a series of discussions, a slate of candidates for the EC has been agreed, which includes Socialist Party members.

Each candidate needs three valid nominations to stand. Nomination meetings must be held by 3 February, and nominations received by 8 February. The election itself takes place from 27 March to 25 April.

Unite’s EC is elected through a combination of territorial (regions and nations), industrial sector and equalities representatives. Socialist Party members standing in these constituencies include the following, with their Unite membership details (necessary for nomination). If your branch falls in these constituencies, you can nominate:

Suzanne Muna, South West Region

Branch Sw/001732, Membership Number 15692878

Suzanne was previously a member of the EC representing the London and Eastern region, and formerly secretary of the housing workers’ branch, which backed its members in a number of disputes against housing association employers. She now lives in Bristol.

“Unite members in the South West region, as elsewhere, are involved in the rising number of disputes, extending our record of winning better pay and conditions. To build on this momentum, and to keep on winning disputes, we need to properly resource our reps with the right facilities, information, support, and training. I also want Unite to work in solidarity with other unions taking action, emphasising unity, coordinated action, and collective strength.”

Anthony Allen, West Midlands Region

Branch Wm/7116, Membership Number 15588340

Anthony is a rep on the Coventry refuse team, which last year won a protracted and bitter dispute against the Labour-run council on pay and conditions.

“As the driver’s representative at Coventry City Council I took part in one of Unite’s longest disputes, a dispute that was successful with the support of the union and our general secretary Sharon Graham.

“The strike revealed how employers today treat their employees, my involvement in the strike has given me the opportunity to gain further experience and realise what is important for all of us fighting for the rights we deserve.”

Len Hockey, Health Sector

Branch Le/7384l, Membership Number 20025170

Len was a key leader of the dispute in the Barts Health Trust in London, which won a pay rise and the transfer of contracted-out workers back in-house from this April.

“Health workers’ growing anger at the real-terms pay cuts ongoing, urgently needs to be harnessed and given a powerful, organised expression nationally. The landmark win of Barts strikers in east London in 2022, that won in-sourcing back into the NHS of over 1,700 support workers, including cleaners and porters, demonstrates the potential that exists.”

The Socialist Party will campaign to elect these and all fighters on the slate.