The leader of the Unite union has helped to win pay deals worth more than £25 million in her first 100 days in the job.
Sharon Graham, who took over from Len McCluskey as general secretary, has been following through on her pledge to be personally involved in disputes, saying she has had a “laser focus” on jobs, pay and conditions.
In an interview with the PA news agency, she said she has been working to make sure her members, and employers, know that she is leading from the front, often joining strikers on picket lines.
Deals she has helped negotiate have resulted in extra pay for bus drivers and Unite members in road transport and the warehouse and logistics sectors.
The most important thing I have achieved is winning for workers ... We now have a flickering flame and we have to make sure we drive forwardSharon Graham, Unite union general secretary
She has set up a “disputes unit”, which offers support to those fighting for better pay and conditions, or tackling the so-called “fire and rehire” issues which have affected parts of industry.
“The most important thing I have achieved is winning for workers,” she said. “Within 48 hours of being elected, I brought together all our reps involved in disputes and said we would be backing them. That is what I promised when I stood for election.
“We now have a flickering flame and we have to make sure we drive forward.”
Disputes are now being co-ordinated, such as in the bus industry, and Ms Graham is making sure there is a “forensic” study of accounts of companies involved in disputes.
“I believe this is a moment of opportunity for the trade union movement,” she said. “We must grasp it.
“Building a powerful union capable of winning disputes and workplace battles is the best protection that I can offer my members through the pandemic and as the country deals with its aftermath.
“The union grows by winning. It is our aim to keep winning so that ‘fire and rehire’ strategies will be confounded and workers don’t pay the price of the pandemic.”
In Ms Graham’s first 100 days more than 40 industrial disputes have been resolved.
The value of Unite’s top 43 pay deals exceeds £25 million, covering around 12,000 workers.
Sixteen of the deals were worth on average an extra £1,600 extra for bus drivers, and 14 deals were worth on average £6,000 extra for workers in the road transport, warehouse & logistics sector.
Ms Graham has met Labour leader Keir Starmer, and makes it clear she expects the party to be supporting workers.
She believes politicians “do not speak the same language” as workers, which she wants to change, especially for the Labour party.
She revealed plans to launch a so-called Unite Bargaining Index, which union officials can use when negotiating on pay, adding: “It will look at the real cost of living.”