IN Holborn, style and success is worn with a little more rectitude than in some of its neighbouring and flashier Central London neighbourhoods. This being one of London’s oldest districts, it seems fitting that lawyers and diamonds – two of the UK capitals most durable products – are found here.

It’s also where Unite, the second largest trade union in the UK, is headquartered … perhaps to park some tanks on the lawns of those twin sectors in which much of the country’s wealth is clandestinely traded and then protected.

Sharon Graham, General Secretary of Unite, warms to this theme throughout the course of our conversation. She uses it though, as a way of issuing a warning to Sir Keir Starmer and the Labour Party should they gain power at the next General Election.

“Labour have to be much bolder,” she says. “When the Tories get in, they bat for their side. After the pandemic, they unpacked a suite of city bonuses for bankers. They have no shame. Sometimes when Labour get in they merely apply the brake and then the Tories get back in and the brake comes off.

“This is like 1945. Back then, a Labour government took over a crippled economy, ravaged by war and they knew they had to make a proper social contract with the people, to ensure they would no longer be used as fodder and so they created the NHS and a fair benefits system.

“Labour must do the same thing now to redress a societal imbalance. We’ve got households where both parents work, yet still must use foodbanks because of low wages. This is ridiculous in an economy which is worth £2.5 trillion and is the sixth richest in the world.”

The Herald: Sharon Graham (centre) on manouvers

In the two years since she was elected head of Unite, there have been 951 disputes on her patch, of which 80% have been won, covering 152,000 workers across all four countries of the UK. During this time, Unite has spent £32m in strike pay, but have put more than £400m back in to the pockets of workers.

Her record as a formidable negotiator won her the top job. She had headed up a Hostile Negotiations unit where it was her job to “organise leverage”.

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“When I came to this job two years ago, the accepted economic narrative was skewed in the usual direction. The Governor of the Bank of England was saying that we all had to tighten our belts because wages were putting up inflation.

But what’s put up inflation is rampant profiteering. And we can show you exactly why that’s the case.”

To this end the Union established a forensic economic unit called Unite Investigates. It’s informed and reinforced an economic analysis which has eloquently rebuked the accepted falsehoods favoured by the Tories and their partners in big finance and the energy cartels.

“We brought in teams of forensic accountants, economists and investigative researchers so that we could follow the money. We had to up our game. We’re mostly dealing with multi-nationals and with employers emboldened by increasingly reactionary employment legislation.”

This Smart Activism has led to corporate generals viewing Unite in the same way that Central American republics and small African nations regard the CIA and the British Intelligence services. “If a company’s main decision-makers are not in Derby but in Detroit then I need to know what makes them tick in Detroit.”

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She cites the campaign to get back pay that workers lost through British Airways’ fire and re-hire policy. “A lot of that was built around looking at their landing slots at Heathrow and the Spanish airline they wanted to buy called Air Europa. So, to move them we had to use leverage in Spain and not just what was happening in the UK.”

“If we’re faced with an employer who’s making massive profits and not moving and saying ‘up yours’ to the workers then I’m going to use everything in my armoury to defend those workers. To do that, we need to understand the company better than they know it themselves.”

And while Unite is affiliated to the UK Labour Party, Ms Graham is beginning to move some of her formidable armoury on to Sir Keir’s real estate too.

“Labour are talking about establishing a Great British Energy company, but the money is pigeon-shit money, anywhere between £8bn and £28Bn. Look at Germany and what they’re putting into Green Economy. It’s 15% of their GDP; there’s no comparison.

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“We have a situation where energy costs around £90bn at book price. But it’s £196bn at market price. That’s a massive profit which could sit on the books of our country and we could borrow against. This has been researched and fully verified.”

Ms Graham also posted notice to the SNP that they need to get their priorities right when promoting their Just Transition policy in the North Sea and that this means the workers in the oil and gas sector must come first.

“In Scotland you can’t let go of one rope until you’ve got hold of another. Not to continue with oil and gas licences when we don’t have a replacement is irresponsible. I’ve asked about these 480,000 Green jobs: what exactly are they? If it’s driving an electric bike for Deliveroo then that’s not the sort of secure, well-paying jobs I’m talking about.

“Just Transition has become something that trips off people’s tongues. We need a negotiated transition, where workers are at the heart of it. I meet oil and gas workers all the time. They’re all pro Net Zero, but you can’t achieve this properly unless you bring the workers with you.

“We are 100% in favour of the Rosebank oil and gas field. We can’t make these workers the coalminers of their generation. It’s easy to take a leap of faith if you’ve got half a million or a nice cushy job at Holyrood or Westminster. But they’re asking working class people to cross their fingers and hope for the best.”

“We’ll be using the Union’s resources to mount a very high-profile campaign in Scotland around oil and gas and to ensure that any transition is properly just. This means that it must be a negotiated one with the workers and their communities at the front and centre of it.”

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She’s acutely aware of the mass migration of Scottish Labour supporters to the SNP in the 2014 referendum ion Scottish independence and that several trade unions also lined up for Yes. And she’s indicated that Unite would be happy to support a referendum and outright independence in the future, but only if her Scottish members indicated support for it.

“It’s important to me that our Scottish members decide what The Union’s position should be on independence. We have a Scottish executive and our members in Scotland decide our direction. Whatever decision they make I will ensure we, as a national Union, are bound by that decision. It would be patronising to say anything else.

“Of course people in England have a view on Scotland’s constitutional future, but for me the fundamental principle is that the people in Scotland will decide

this. And that’s why our Scottish members will determine what our official position is.”