Britain  •  Industrial  •  Unite the union

Sharon Graham scabs on Palestine

22 April 2024

By Dave Stockton

Unite’s General Secretary Sharon Graham has picked the middle of Israel’s genocidal war to denounce the solidarity movement and nail her colours to the mast of British militarism.

The union’s conference has repeatedly expressed support for BDS (Boycott Sanctions and Divestment), but from the moment the Gaza war began, Unite has avoided saying anything. It backed out of supporting a Palestine fringe meeting at Labour’s conference. The Executive took a month to issue a statement calling for a ceasefire.

Not only has the union’s big balloons, banners and full-timers been absent from the national demos, Unite’s leadership has failed to publicise, let alone take action on the Palestinian TUC’s call on all unions to refuse to build weapons destined for Israel and to refuse to transport them to Israel.

Response to this appeal has come from the relatively small forces of the Palestine solidarity activists and rank and file trade unionists. Groups such as Workers for a Free Palestine and Palestine Action have been protesting outside factories and offices of companies producing weapons used in Israel’s genocide in Gaza.

They have targeted firms like BAE Systems, which provides up to 15 per cent of the parts to F35 Lockheed Martin stealth combat aircraft, as well as Elbit Systems and Rafael, amongst Israel’s largest defence companies.


But Graham has decided to slander these activists. In a letter to union officials, she said:
‘We cannot and will not endorse any organisation which decides unilaterally and without any discussion (let alone agreement) with the workers themselves, to support the targeting of our members’ workplaces or their jobs… No outside body, no matter what their political position, will be allowed to dictate terms to our union and our members.’

She denounced actions ‘that actively work against our members and their jobs… groups that look to build networks inside trade unions to undermine the defence industry or demand the disbandment of Nato.’
Graham gets to the heart of the matter when she says, ‘We are a trade union with thousands of members employed in the defence industry’ and that the ‘first claim on our priorities is always the protection and advancement of our members’ interests at work’.

These words, typical of the narrow economic outlook of a union bureaucrat, are consistent with her stance that Unite should steer clear of politics, and her more recent assertion that ‘Unite is a trade union not a political party’.

Against this blinkered outlook we need to point out that defending workers’ interests cannot stop at the workplace gate nor be limited to members of one’s own union nor indeed ones’ ‘own’ country. Employers and governments do not observe such restrictions. Neither should we. Wars in the Middle East, arms races, etc. affect us here.

The idea that workers should take no interest in what their employers produce or what it is used for or even, as Graham suggests, we should support ‘our’ defence industry (into which resources are being diverted away from social services and useful products) is in the end an anti-working class attitude.

Apart from the basic class solidarity with workers in Palestine experiencing genocide, the new arms race is part of a rush towards war between the great powers, which threatens to annihilate many thousands of trade unionists, on all sides, for the defence of the profit system.

Therefore, Unite members should demand their union support the blocking of arms destined for Israel, investigate and expose any links and mount mass pickets outside factories producing them. Sharon Graham should be held to account and, if she will not defend the union’s official policy, she should resign.

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