Mick Lynch is. But Sharon Graham isn’t.
Yet Mick’s union the RMT isn’t even affiliated to the Labour Party, while Sharon’s Unite is one of the party’s biggest donors.
Sir Keir Starmer breezes into blowy Liverpool on day two of the TUC conference to attend the traditional gala dinner for shadow cabinet ministers and the TUC’s general council, mostly the leaders of the big unions.
Mick’s predecessor, the loud, no-nonsense left-winger Bob Crow – who stormed out of a TUC speech by Sir Tony Blair some years ago, always used to boycott the dinner, declaring that he was “going down the pub” instead.
But savvy Mick, the thinking man’s Bob Crow, is going. It seems he’s not one to turn down a free dinner. He’s also not the sort to miss the opportunity to put his point of view to the Labour leader or any other senior politician.
But Sharon, who since her election as Unite general secretary in late 2021 has made a point of avoiding the kind of political scheming of her extrovert predecessor Len McCluskey, is not going to the dinner.
She’ll be busy dealing with an industrial dispute on Monday evening, she told Sky News. Probably just as well, after her “1990s tribute act” attack on Sir Keir in a provocative Sunday Times article.
According to insiders, Sir Keir and his deputy Angela Rayner, who makes the big set-piece speech on behalf of the Labour Party at the TUC on Tuesday morning, have put Sharon “on the naughty step” after her frequent criticisms of the Labour leadership.
She did reveal to Sky News in an interview, however, that she’s meeting Sir Keir next week, ahead of Labour’s conference next month. So relations can’t be all that bad.
Despite their differing dining arrangements, both Mick and Sharon will be leading players in the debates at the TUC conference over the next few days.
The RMT leader is leading the unions’ fight against the government’s Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act, which received Royal Assent at the end of July.
He told Sky News there are no new rail strikes planned at the moment. But, he said, if the employers, the Rail Delivery Group which represents the train companies, don’t come up with a new offer soon, there will be.
What’s the betting those new strikes with coincide with the Conservative Party conference, which takes place between 1 and 4 October? Don’t forget, that’s more or less when hospital consultants are going on strike. They’re walking out on between 2 and 5 October.
Broken Britain, anyone?
Sharon may not be joining Sir Keir, Mick and the other diners at the TUC feast, but the Unite leader will be active in the conference hall, leading the demands for re-nationalisation of energy companies in a debate on Monday.
In her Sunday Times article, she also called for wealth taxes – rejected by shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves – and taxes on what she called “excessive” business profits.
The conference began on Sunday afternoon with stirring speeches by two other senior union leaders, Christina McAnea of Unison and Paul Serwotka of the civil service union PCS.
He talked powerfully about “broken Britain”, though he was referring to crumbling concrete in schools and escaping prisoners rather than strikes by trade unions!
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The TUC’s new general secretary, the affable scouser Paul Nowak, earlier announced a move to report the government to the United Nations workers’ rights watchdog, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) over what he called the government’s “pernicious” anti-strike laws.
Not sure that move will have Tory ministers quaking in their boots. After all, isn’t the ILO just a talking shop? To be fair, though, the TUC chief claimed in a Sky News interview that unions have won significant legal battles against the government in the past.
This could be the last TUC conference before a general election which Labour are favourites to win, Christina McAnea predicted in her speech on funding public services, although realistically the election conference is more likely to be just before the election.
If she’s right, there could be a mood celebration at next year’s general council dinner. Although his union is not affiliated to Labour, the RMT’s Mick will probably be there.
And who knows, perhaps Unite’s Sharon – if she’s no longer on the naughty step – will join him at the top table.