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If Unite goes, Starmer should too.

Something is deeply wrong when the party of working people loses the support of the UK’s biggest labour union

By Christie Edward James

Photo courtesy of UK Parliament via Flickr


Recent industrial action in the city of Coventry could spell the end for the Labour Party as we know it… or, at least, as we have come to know it under Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership. A pay dispute between the Labour-run council and the bin lorry drivers in the city, which started months ago though has been on-going, has become increasingly hostile.


Unite the union, on the side of the bin lorry drivers, has been facing an uphill battle against the Labour Party, who you’d think would’ve been on the side of the bin lorry drivers too. The leverage that Unite hold isn’t like any other union. It doesn’t just hold workers at bay and negotiate terms with the council, of which could be run by any party for a matter of fact. It holds the power of being the biggest funder of said council; it is the biggest donator to the Labour Party. Quite frankly, it’s crazy to think that their demands—of which are incredibly reasonable and rational—are not being upheld. Sure, unions will always face struggles, that is essentially why they exist. But in a council run by the party said to be on the side of workers, you’d expect more cooperation. The Unite union has stated that financial support for the party—not just the council or constituent party in Coventry, the entire parliamentary party too—is ‘under review’. The general secretary, Sharon Graham, then later reinforced the statement.


The council, and Labour party, have hit back stating that the union is purposefully misrepresenting the situation and claims being made, going further even attempting to shame the union into backing down. A ridiculous position to be taken by, again, the party for working people. Supposedly.


Moreover, this comes after the decision from the council to outsource the work of waste collection in the city to a private contractor (though owned by the council). However, risking jobs in the process.


Despite independent arbitration between the two sides, they haven’t been very productive in moving talks along.


The last general secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, also had his hand forced to cut donations to the party in 2020 under the same leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer. It came due to the executive of the party simply ‘not listening’.


To me, it’s unsurprising. Labour’s recent popularity hasn’t come from the public suddenly siding with Starmer’s soft-left policies. It has come from Boris Johnson’s indescribably terrible administration and the wider Conservative Party as a whole. The Labour party insiders have surely got to know this? It’s not like their policies were doing good in the public eye before Johnson started to lend them some percentage points of support. They were doing terribly. Quite honestly, the Labour party have been given a gift in Johnson. To win over the public’s support, Starmer just needs to kick the ball into the open goal. The goalie is currently on his lunch break. Yet, Starmer cannot help but distance himself from the core supporters and principles of the party. That being, listening to workers.


If Starmer continues to display utterly uncaring and weak leadership, and if Unite pulls any more support, he must be replaced well before any campaigning for a general election can start.