Sir Keir Starmer is facing a major crisis as trade unions threaten to stop funding Labour over his lack of support for strikes.
Unite, the Opposition’s main financial backer, called on Sir Keir to decide which side he was on and warned there was ‘no point’ giving money to a party that no longer supports workers.
Yet Sir Keir insisted that his focus is on turning Labour from a ‘party of protest’ into one that can win power.
The Labour leader sparked anger last week after he sacked Sam Tarry, the party’s transport spokesman, for making up policy ‘on the hoof’ while being interviewed on a picket line.
Sir Keir Starmer (pictured) insisted that his focus is on turning Labour from a ‘party of protest’ into one that can win power
The Labour leader sparked anger last week after he sacked Sam Tarry (middle right), the party’s transport spokesman, for making up policy ‘on the hoof’ while being interviewed on a picket line
There are now growing calls within the union movement to end funding for Labour until Sir Keir changes tack — possibly denying the party a crucial war chest in the next general election.
Last year the party was given more than £6million from unions – including £1million from Unite in affiliation fees – compared with less than £2million from donors and companies.
Sharon Graham, Unite’s general secretary, told the Sunday Mirror: ‘If I was speaking to Keir right now I would say to him, ‘which side are you on?’ Because the reality is, if I closed my eyes, sometimes I wouldn’t know whether it was the Labour party or the Tories who were speaking.’
She added: ‘You [Labour] need to show that you absolutely believe in defending workers. And if you don’t do that you are no longer the party for workers – that’s the reality.’
In a separate interview with the Observer, she said she expected the issue of funding for Labour to come up at Unite’s next conference and said it was getting ‘harder and harder to defend’.
‘If I was speaking to Keir right now I would say to him, ‘which side are you on?’ said Unite general secretary Sharon Graham (pictured)
Miss Graham continued: ‘There’s no point giving money to a party that is basically sticking two fingers up to workers. It’s almost like an abusive relationship.’
The boss of the train drivers’ union, which remains affiliated to Labour, also said Sir Keir had been wrong to remove Mr Tarry during last week’s strike.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, told LBC: ‘I publicly called out his decision on Sam Tarry in the week, I think it was the wrong one. [But] I do know generally he supports workers.
‘Generally he has a policy that, when Labour are in power… [he will be] talking about growth and green transition.’
Asked to describe Sir Keir’s relationship with trade unions, Mr Whelan replied: ‘Mainly cordial, occasionally fractious – we are firm critical friends.’