Len McCluskey was elected General Secretary of Unite in 2010 and became a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn when he became Labour Party leader in 2015. But McCluskey, 71, is retiring and union members are voting for a new leader.
Britain’s second biggest trade union, Unite, looks set to elect its first woman leader and she has promised to move it away from poking its nose into party politics as it did under her predecessor, Len McCluskey.
The Guardian claims Sharon Graham’s team issued a statement on Tuesday, 24 August, saying they were sure she had won on the basis of preliminary results from the 10 percent of sampled ballot papers.
McCluskey, who led the union for a decade, was a fierce supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and left-wing policies but also urged the party to reject a pro-Remain stance on Brexit.
He had endorsed as his successor, the assistant general secretary Steve Turner, but the BBC claims to have seen a text message Mr Turner sent to supporters on Tuesday in which he had conceded defeat.
Mr Turner reportedly wrote: “It appears Sharon has got it! Sorry it didn’t work out for us.”
The formal result is due to be announced on Thursday, 26 August, but all indications are that Graham has won it with her campaign to prioritise workplace improvements and keep clear of Westminster politics.
Graham, 52, is an experienced negotiator who last year won protection for thousands of British Airways workers threatened under “fire and rehire” plans.
While the Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer may welcome her victory in the short-term as McCluskey and Turner had been critics of his handling of the party and his attempts to dump “Corbynism”, he may have a bigger problem in the long-term.
Unite donated £3 million to Labour in the run-up to the 2019 general election but Graham, who was supported by the smaller and more left-wing Socialist Party, has said she wants “payment by results” and has said she would not give Labour a “blank cheque.”
Unite also represents many workers at Labour Party headquarters who have been threatened with redundancy by Starmer, amid a financial crisis caused by the sharp reduction in people paying membership fees.
Thousands of Corbynites quit Labour after Starmer was elected leader last year at the expense of Rebecca Long-Bailey.