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My Zionist general secretary

Sharon Graham attacks Unite’s own staff and declares her support for Nato and western imperialism, writes Tony Greenstein. So when are the SWP, SPEW and Counterfire going to stop supporting her?

When Sharon Graham was elected as general secretary of Unite in August 2021, most socialist groups welcomed her election and breathed a sigh of relief that Gerard Coyne, the darling of The Sun, had come last.

They did this despite Graham describing herself as “non-political”. All that mattered was that she supported strikes. That Graham had nothing to say about capitalism, imperialism, racism was ignored. Her lack of any criticism of Keir Starmer too. It was as if Unite members had no life outside the workplace.

Typical was Socialist Worker, whose headline was ‘Boost for left as Sharon Graham wins Unite general secretary election’.1 Both the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party supported her candidacy - the SP was particularly enthusiastic.2

Graham has supported strikes - but to the exclusion of everything else: at the TUC conference in 2022 Unite actually supported a GMB motion calling for increased military expenditure.

Branch SE 6246

The first inkling that Graham was a Zionist came in June 2023, when Unite’s south-east regional secretary, Sarah Carpenter, who has now been appointed as Graham’s chief of staff, informed my branch (Unite SE 6246) that she had asked for screenings of the film, Jeremy Corbyn - the big lie, to be cancelled, even though Carpenter wrote: “… whilst I seek further guidance. I have not had any instructions to cancel”.

I wrote to her to ask why, if she had not had any instructions to cancel the film, she needed to seek guidance: “That suggests that you were advised to cancel the booking,” I added. “Perhaps you would enlighten us as to who gave you this advice? Otherwise your need to seek guidance makes no sense.”

On June 13 Carpenter wrote back informing me: “The issues covered in the film are pertinent to internal Labour Party matters and that is not the focus of our union.” Carpenter’s excuses were lies. The reference to “internal Labour Party matters” suggested that she was trying to please Starmer. My Unite branch passed a motion saying:

The film is about the orchestrated attack on Jeremy Corbyn and the socialist leadership of the Labour Party from 2015-19. We do not believe that the following issues are irrelevant to Unite members:

  •  increased privatisation of the NHS, which Starmer supports;
  •  public ownership of water, rail and the utilities;
  •  Zionism and apartheid Israel;
  •  the racist treatment of refugees;
  •  worker’s struggles which Keir Starmer opposes; and
  •  Tory legislation restricting the right of protest and civil liberties.

I then discovered that the Campaign Against Antisemitism (widely believed to be an Israeli government proxy) was claiming credit for Unite having banned The big lie. The CAA wrote:

Following correspondence with Campaign Against Antisemitism, the Unite union has cancelled the screening of a propaganda film about the anti-Semitic former Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, that was due to be shown, alongside a book signing and talk from Asa Winstanley ...

Campaign Against Antisemitism commends Unite for its swift and decisive action to cancel the screening as soon as we brought it to its attention.

I wrote to Cartmail on August 30 2023 about this:

Your decision to take advice from the racist CAA ... as to whether Jeremy Corbyn - the big lie is anti-Semitic is an outrage ...

Why have your officials lied and lied about the banning …? Who has given you the right to decide what Unite members can or cannot see?

Clearly I had stung Cartmail, because within two hours she replied:

Your disagreeable attack is based on a falsehood. No-one in Unite took advice from the Campaign Against Antisemitism on Jeremy Corbyn - the big lie, nor indeed any other matter. I suggest you don’t believe everything you read on social media or elsewhere.

Unite as a union is outstanding in both our commitment to anti-racism and solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Actions speak louder than words.

I then asked Cartmail if Graham had written to the CAA asking them to retract their false allegations against her. I received no reply.


When Palestinian resistance groups broke out of the Gaza ghetto on October 7 2023, Unite put out a statement (October 16), which, while it “unreservedly” condemned and expressed its “revulsion” at the violence by Hamas, could only “deplore” the beginning of Israel’s genocide in Gaza.

By this time 2,750 Palestinians had already died. Israel’s minister of defence, Yoav Gallant, had made clear Israel’s genocidal intent when he said: “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel - everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly.”

Israeli spokesman Daniel Hagari made it clear that right now we’re focused on what causes maximum damage”. Numerous Israeli government ministers made genocidal statements.3 President Herzog of the Israeli Labor Party said on October 14: “There are no innocent civilians in Gaza.”

Meanwhile Sharon Graham continued to do nothing. She refused, in line with the position of Starmer, to call for an immediate ceasefire.

On October 17 Peter Kavanagh, secretary for London and eastern region Unite, wrote a letter to Graham asking why there had been no Unite banner or speaker at the Palestine demonstration in London on October 14 and why Unite had done nothing to advertise that demonstration on its website.

No reply was ever received.

On October 26 an emergency executive meeting on Palestine broke up in disarray, having voted 24-14 against making any statement calling for a ceasefire.

Meanwhile, on October 27 Cartmail sent me another email stating:

The general secretary has been actively promoting that the union should put out a statement calling for a ceasefire ... She is also clear that the Unite position must be that we do not stoke division through anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism.

Why should British Jews be the pretext for not condemning genocide? Was Graham saying that Jews support genocide? This is the Suella Braverman/Sunak/Starmer line.

On November 1 I sent an open letter signed by 135 members of Unite to Graham demanding that the union call for an immediate ceasefire and take part in and publicise national demonstrations.

On November 3 Graham finally issued a statement calling for a ceasefire - although it failed to mention (still less condemn) Israel’s genocide in Gaza.4

On December 19 166 Unite members sent another letter to Graham, pointing out that in the statement there was no mention of genocide, ethnic cleansing or the war crimes perpetrated by Israel, such as the bombing of hospitals or the murder of journalists, academics and doctors - to say nothing of the murder of children, which now stands at over 14,000.

Nor was there any mention of the fact that Israel had imposed a food, water and fuel blockade on the Gaza Strip, resulting in starvation.5 We wrote:

The statement treats the genocidal attack on the people of Gaza as equivalent to the break-out from the world’s largest open air prison on October 7. Israel has occupied the Gaza Strip for 56 years imposing a suffocating siege on it since 2007.

Graham was happy to support dockers refusing to unload fuel from Russia but not happy to support Palestinians under attack. Why? Because Graham is an unashamed supporter of western imperialism.

For four months after the November 3 statement Sharon Graham did absolutely nothing to campaign against Israel’s genocide. There was no national Unite presence on the London demonstrations, no publicity for them, no transport.

This was why we organised a demonstration outside Unite HQ on March 11 to coincide with an executive committee meeting.6 About 50 Unite members attended.

At the meeting itself there were two motions on Palestine. Graham and her supporters ensured that they were not even discussed. She herself justified that by stating: “Palestine is not a service we offer members”! This one phrase sums up everything about Graham’s rightwing politics and national chauvinism.

Sharon Graham is firmly wedded to the maintenance of capitalism. She simply wants workers to have a larger share of the imperialist cake. In this sense she is not even a reformist.


On March 7 Israel bombed the headquarters of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) in Gaza City. In a statement, Basheer Al-Sisi from the PGFTU’s secretariat spoke of how they had “lost thousands of members, union offices, facilities, and other institutions” as a result of Israel’s wholesale slaughter and forced dislocation - ethnic cleansing”.

On March 25 Graham wrote a letter of solidarity to Shaher Saeed, the PGFTU general secretary. At the time I assumed that this letter was genuine (but in the light of subsequent events it is clear that Graham had been looking to make a gesture of support for the Palestinians before launching an attack on the solidarity movement). I wrote:

… it is, of course, welcome that Graham has, at last, written expressing her solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza. But it is long overdue. It is also welcome that she has, for the first time, condemned Israel’s “war crimes”, but we will never forget that this only came nearly six months after Israel’s attack and with deaths and injuries over 100,000.

In her letter Graham boasted that Unite had donated a paltry £50,000 to Médicins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). I wrote:

Let us hope that Sharon Graham’s letter to the PGFTU is a sign that she has at last recognised that ... the union must revert to its traditional position of support for the oppressed, not the oppressor. I fear though that Graham’s letter is about as far as she intends to go and that these are empty words.

Little did I know the depths of cynicism which Graham is capable of. The PGFTU HQ was bombed on March 7. Graham’s letter was sent on March 25. Between November 3 and then she had done absolutely nothing. This letter was all that she did - and she had written it solely in order to say she had done something.

The very next day after the letter to the PGFTU Graham penned another letter to staff and officers. Its purpose was:

… to alert and inform you about a number of extremely troubling actions being undertaken by a tiny minority of individuals, inside and outside of our union.

Some of these individuals are linked to the past leadership and a small number are linked to groups who want us to make decisions detrimental to our membership and their jobs.7

It was written in the language of McCarthyism and its purpose was to witch-hunt the left and Palestine solidarity activists. But it was also aimed more widely at anti-war activists, who she deemed a threat to jobs. In other words, what happens in wider society, despite the growing militarisation, attacks on the right to protest and the decimation of the NHS, was irrelevant. Graham wanted to tie Unite’s fortunes to the military-industrial complex alone.

Graham’s letter claimed that those who try to get Unite to campaign over the issue of Palestine have been doing nothing more than weaponising attacks on her. She pretended that she has been at the forefront of solidarity with the Palestinians, falsely claiming that Unite had been “the first major union to publicly and unambiguously call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza”.

This was simply a lie. Unison had called for an immediate ceasefire on October 26 - it also condemned Israel for its attacks on civilians, unlike Unite’s statement a week later.

Graham spent the rest of her letter suggesting that those who oppose sending arms to Israel were targeting the workers producing them. Instead of trying to persuade workers in arms factories to take action themselves or offering them union support if they refused to work on weapons to Israel, she attempted to pit those workers against Palestine solidarity and anti-war activists.

Graham was trying to instil fear in workers that, unless they were prepared to arm Israel, their jobs will be lost. Rather than supporting the diversification of production and turning arms factories into producing useful things like solar panels and wind turbines, Graham adopted the mentality of the most backward and reactionary section of workers - those who a few generations before might have believed that opposition to the British empire spelt doom for us workers.

Graham suggested that there is no contradiction for a trade union to hold a position of solidarity with Palestinian workers, while at the same time opposing campaigns that seek to prevent the production of arms for genocide in Gaza. In other words, Unite is in solidarity with Palestinian workers, but also in solidarity with those who produce weapons to blow them up! Graham took aim at those who “build networks inside trade unions to undermine the defence industry or demand the disbandment of Nato and Aukus [Australia, the UK and US]”.

The US today is deliberately seeking confrontation with China, presumably with Sharon Graham’s full backing. And, if a nuclear war results, how will that benefit Unite workers?

The NHS is suffering because military expenditure continues to rise. Health and social care, local government, transport all suffer because the capital-intensive arms industry sucks up billions.

It is time for those on the left who placed their faith in Graham to realise that being “non-political” was a euphemism for rightwing politics. Graham is a narrow-minded British nationalist, a supporter of imperialism, a warmonger and a Zionist, who has nothing to offer the working class.


Unfortunately much of the left in Britain is unable to understand that racism and imperialism mean the working class allying with its bosses. In Karl Marx’s day the burning question was British colonialism in Ireland.

Marx wrote:

Every industrial and commercial centre in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps: English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself.

He cherishes religious, social and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude towards him is much the same as that of the ‘poor whites’ to the negroes in the former slave states of the USA. The Irishman pays him back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker both the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rulers in Ireland.

This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers - in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.8

If you want a good example of the stupidity of Britain’s left sects then you could do worse than read the Socialist Party’s ‘Unite and the movement against the war on Gaza’,9 which ignores the criticism of Sharon Graham over Palestine and instead concentrates on disputes between the so-called United Left and Graham’s supporters.

Industrial strikes do not by themselves challenge capitalism unless they are generalised and politicised. It is quite possible to combine industrial militancy with imperialism. The white South African working class was militant, as was the Protestant working class of Northern Ireland. Israel’s Jewish working class is militant, whilst fighting to reserve the highest paid jobs for Israeli Jews.

The so-called revolutionary groups like the SWP are guilty of economism - the belief that the economic struggle alone, for better wages and conditions, will of itself lead to the transformation of capitalism into socialism.

Sharon Graham has strongly supported strikes, but she has not done so as part of class-struggle politics. For her, capitalist society is the accepted framework in which industrial struggle is waged - hence her support for militarism and imperialist alliances.

Those who seek to generalise from industrial struggles into a confrontation with the state are to be condemned for threatening her members’ jobs. International solidarity with other workers is to be condemned - even if, as is the case in arms factories, this leads to one set of workers producing the means of physically eliminating another set of workers.

It will be interesting to see whether her supporters in the SWP, SP, etc will now break from her at last or whether they are determined to go down with her!

The SWP had previously said nothing, but in the April 9 edition of Socialist Worker it published a letter - ‘Let down by Sharon Graham’s failure to lead over Palestine’ - in which Graham is criticised for prioritising jobs in arms factories over support for Palestine. Given that the SWP’s letters column never allows any genuine debate, this can be taken as a sign that the SWP leadership is alarmed by the direction Graham is going in - but is not prepared to say so outright. Sometimes one needs to be a Kremlinologist to decipher the SWP’s position.

Counterfire has said nothing, but one of its supporters, Richard Allday, is a member of the Unite executive. When I posted on my blog criticism of Graham’s letter to staff and her attack on Palestine solidarity activists, Allday was furious. He posted on the Unite for Palestine WhatsApp group: “I am getting tired of your unsubstantiated abuse being passed off as legitimate debate. You’ve called Sharon a racist. Provide concrete evidence or kindly shut up.”

When Allday came under sustained criticism from other members, he finally admitted: “I accept that she has not spoken out on the current atrocity in Palestine. I wish she would. But that does not make her a supporter of Netanyahu, or of Zionism in general.”

Allday is wrong. By her actions - banning a film on the ‘anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt and then doing her best to prevent Unite members giving solidarity to the Palestinians in Gaza - Graham has made it very clear that she is a Zionist.

As for the Socialist Party, it would appear that it is determined to defend Sharon Graham to the last.

  1. socialistworker.co.uk/news/boost-for-left-as-sharon-graham-wins-unite-general-secretary-election.↩︎

  2. See www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/105952/11-01-2023/unite-the-union-elect-a-leadership-to-back-sharon-grahams-fighting-stance.↩︎

  3. See Al Jazeera’s useful article on this: www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2024/1/14/intent-in-the-genocide-case-against-israel-is-not-hard-to-prove.↩︎

  4. See www.unitetheunion.org/news-events/news/2023/november/unite-calls-for-an-immediate-ceasefire.↩︎

  5. www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-67670679.↩︎

  6. See www.left-horizons.com/2024/03/21/unite-members-lobby-nec-over-unions-inaction-on-gaza.↩︎

  7. drive.google.com/file/d/1b7RHnBG0DwVwtQlAVbVhKuvd2MSZpyvI/view.↩︎

  8. www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1870/letters/70_04_09.htm.↩︎

  9. www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/122741/25-03-2024/unite-and-the-anti-gaza-war-movement.↩︎