29 August 2021

Tories call on Labour to reject union’s funding over ‘controversial’ campaigning

29 August 2021

The Conservative Party has called on Labour to stop taking funding from its biggest donor if pledges made to “ramp up” hostile campaigning goes ahead.

Tory Party co-chairman Amanda Milling wrote to Anneliese Dodds, Labour Party chair, following the election of Sharon Graham as the new general secretary of Unite last week.

Ms Graham beat her two male rivals to become the first female general secretary of the giant union on Thursday.

But Ms Milling said Labour should “unequivocally condemn” some of the comments made by the new boss in the past.

Ms Graham has been running Unite’s organising and leverage department, known as the union’s industrial action wing.

Ms Milling said such leverage campaigns were “intimidatory” and the tactics “controversial and sinister”.

Leverage campaigning has risen in popularity within the union movement and often takes the form of demonstrations, protests and social media campaigns to target an employer and its senior management, with the aim of creating pressure from the public or shareholders for the employer to meet union demands.

In recent years this has seen campaigning outside the homes of senior management or outside businesses linked to a certain employer, among other tactics.

In a speech to the National Shop Stewards’ Network in 2019, Ms Graham said she was preparing leverage documents about some of Britain’s top employers.

She said she was referring to “hostile employers, I’m not talking about every single employer”.

Amanda Milling has written to Labour on the issue (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Archive)

But she added: “In order to be prepared, we are already looking at the top 10 employers in every sector of Unite and we are preparing a leverage document just in case.”

In her manifesto for Unite’s top job she said she would “ramp up” resources needed, including for leverage, and that Unite has “to be open to working at the edges of the law if necessary”.

Ms Milling said Labour should “unequivocally condemn” leverage tactics and any suggestion to work “at the edges of the law”.

She said Labour should “cease taking funding from Unite if their new general secretary presses ahead with these plans”.

We have to be open to working at the edges of the law if necessary

A Labour spokesperson said: “Like the vast majority of trade unionists, Keir Starmer and the Labour Party support the rule of law and trade unions campaigning and organising within it.”

A spokesman for Unite told The Telegraph: “Employers never think of families when they ‘fire and rehire’ workers at will. Company owners’ family are only included in a union campaign if they have major business links to the company concerned. If employers object to that it is hypocrisy.

“Sharon makes no apology for organising to defend workers. That is what she intends to do as general secretary of the union.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox