Sharon Graham becomes Unite union’s first female leader

Sharon Graham becomes Unite union’s first female leader
Left-winger takes almost 5,000 more votes than nearest rival

Sharon Graham has won the Unite leadership contest, becoming the union’s first female general secretary.

The staunch left-winger – backed by the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party – took almost 5,000 more votes than her nearest rival, the candidate favoured by outgoing leader Len McCluskey.

Ms Graham received 46,696 members’ votes ahead of 41,833 votes for Steve Turner and 35,334 for Gerard Coyne, the union announced on Wednesday.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted his congratulations, writing: “I’m looking forward to working together to improve the lives of working people across the country.”

Ms Graham has made clear she does not want to engage in constant bickering with Sir Keir and the Labour leadership team.

She said last month: “Labour will likely be in opposition for most of the next decade and workers can’t afford to wait … we can be more effective by ridding ourselves of the obsession with fighting yesterday’s wars within Labour.”

But she also suggested Labour could not be certain of the union’s financial support – saying she favours “payment by results” and warning that there would be “no blank cheque” under her leadership.

Ms Graham successfully pitched herself as the “workers’ candidate” – pledging to take Unite “back to the workplace” and keep out of factional politics.

She has led the union’s organising and leverage department, which specialises in taking on hostile employers – leading recent disputes at British Airways and Crossrail on behalf of union members, as well as campaigning to unionise Amazon.

“It is an enormous privilege for me to have been elected as the general secretary of Unite,” Ms Graham said after the result was announced. “Unite members across the UK and Ireland, have spoken. They want change.”

She added: “They have rallied, in their tens of thousands, to our demand that Unite should get back to the workplace and deliver what it says on the trade union tin – a relentless fight for jobs, pay and conditions.”

The new general secretary vowed: “I stand for a fight against the gross injustices that blight the lives of our members, and British society as a whole.”

Outgoing Unite general secretary Len McCluskey – who had favoured – congratulated Ms Graham, saying her victory “reaffirmed her as the most formidable campaigning force in our movement”.

He added: “It’s a fantastic achievement and I am very proud to be handing over to our first woman general secretary.”

Mr McCluskey, a keen supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, has complained that Labour was suffering from a “lack of authenticity” under Sir Keir and challenged him to “honour” left-wing pledges he committed when elected party leader.