New Unite leader says she will not attend Labour conference

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The new leader of Unite will not attend the Labour Party conference from this weekend, preferring to try to resolve disputes the union is involved in.

Sharon Graham, recently elected general secretary, said current industrial disputes will have to take priority.

She said: “From day one of the general secretary election campaign I said I wanted the union to get back to what it says on the trade union tin, fighting for jobs, pay and conditions.

“That is what I am doing now.

“My members in dispute must be my first priority”.

Unite has more more than 20 ongoing industrial disputes, involving firms including Tesco and Weetabix.

Ms Graham added: “At this time, my place is with workers and my members.

“So next week I’ll be on picket lines where my members are taking industrial action and not at Labour conference in Brighton.”

She stressed her decision was not a snub to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, saying: “I am literally only four weeks into my leadership and my job has to be focused on defending workers.

“I had a useful meeting with Keir earlier this week and told him it was unlikely I would be at conference.

“I said I would be doing the day job to try to make sure workers don’t pay the price of the pandemic.”

The Unite delegation at Labour conference will be led by its executive council chairman, Tony Woodhouse and national political lead, Rob MacGregor.

On the proposals to discuss major rule changes at the Conference in Brighton, Ms Graham said: “Given what is happening to workers and communities, surely this is not the time to talk about process, about the detail of Labour rules for election of the leader and selection of Labour candidates and the like.

“We should be focusing on the ‘here and now’ on real issues, like fire and rehire.

“I believe huge debates about rules now is a mistake.”

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