The tight result sees Unite elect its first ever female General Secretary.
Sharon Graham has been confirmed as the next general secretary of Unite the union, the ‘leading union’ in the UK and Ireland.
Unite the union announced the final results of its members’ vote for each of the three candidates on Wednesday afternoon:
Sharon Graham – 46,696 votes
Steve Turner – 41,833 votes
Gerard Coyne – 35,334 votes.
A total of 124,147 votes were cast, representing a turnout of around 10%, down slightly on the 2017 turnout of 12%.
Sharon Graham – who leads Unite’s organising department – will succeed Len McCluskey who has been general secretary of the 1.2 million-member union since 2010.
Graham’s campaign was focused on getting Unite ‘back to the workplace’, rather than disputes with the Labour party. She is viewed as being on the left of the union, and faced frequent calls to stand aside for rival left-winger Steve Turner, over fears of ‘splitting the vote’.
Commenting, outgoing general secretary McCluskey – who broke precedent to publicly back Steve Turner during the campaign – said: “I thoroughly congratulate Sharon on her victory, which reaffirms her as the most formidable campaigning force in our movement.
“It’s a fantastic achievement and I am very proud to be handing over to our first woman general secretary.
“I have been hugely privileged to be at the helm of Unite for the past eleven years. Sharon has been a valued and close friend and an integral part of my senior team throughout my time in office so I know from experience that she is a talented, dedicated and passionate trade unionist. I have every faith that she will run our union in a manner true to its fighting back spirit.
“Sharon comes into office at a time of great uncertainty for our members and a challenging political environment. From assaults on workers’ rights to the fear that the end of furlough will bring with it increased and needless unemployment, the in-tray is full. But I know that she will build on our values and harness the talents of our great union in the service of our members and our movement.”
Sharon Graham said: “I am honoured to have been elected by our members, and I understand that the trust that they have placed in me brings with it tremendous responsibility.
“Our members expect their union to be in their corner so I was proud to stand on a manifesto that pledged to put our members and our workplaces first. I will deliver on those promises.
“Unite is an incredible force for good in the UK and Ireland but I am fully aware of the huge challenges our members face in the workplace.
“As general secretary, I will put all the power of our union into defending their jobs, improving their pay and protecting their rights.
“Bad bosses take note. A strong Unite is the best defence that our members can have – my focus now is to build that strength.”
The London-born trade unionist began her working life at the age of 16 as a silver service waitress. She led her first walkout aged 17 to win better pay and conditions, as she described in an interview with Left Foot Forward.
Sharon is an Executive Officer of Unite where she has developed the union’s Organising and Leverage department which specialises in taking on hostile employers. Unite says her team has a ‘100 per cent winning track record’.
Sharon Graham will take office on Thursday 26 August.
Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward. LFF is proud to be supported by Unite.