Labour staff have put Keir Starmer on notice that any move to make compulsory redundancies as part of a drastic cost-cutting drive is likely to result in strike action.
David Evans, the party’s general secretary, told staff in July that the party’s management were seeking at least 90 redundancies as they try to repair Arbeid finances after several costly legal battles and three general elections in six years.
Labour has said it will seek to make the cuts through voluntary redundancies, but the target represents well over a quarter of all the party’s staff.
Members of two unions representing Labour staff – GMB and Unite – announced on Tuesday that a majority of those consulted in an indicative ballot said they would support strike action if the party tries to impose compulsory redundancies.
Among Unite members, 78% of staff on a 90% turnout said they would support a strike, while among GMB members the figure was 76% on a 79% turnout.
The high turnout and decisive result appeared to point to significant discontent among party staff as Starmer and Evans bid to transform the party into a leaner, election-fighting force.
In a joint statement, the two unions said they would meet Labour management on Friday and were hopeful “an agreement can be reached on a way forward that avoids compulsory redundancies and industrial action”.
The row comes at an acutely awkward moment for the Labour leadership, just weeks before Starmer’s first in-person conference in Brighton, and with increasingly noisy rumblings of discontent among some MPs about the party’s direction.
One senior party source suggested the management would be likely to make concessions, rather than risk the embarrassing spectacle of a strike at conference where Labour is keen to be making pro-worker policy announcements.
Starmer’s deputy, Angela Rayner – a former union rep – is shadow secretary of state for the future of work and has stressed the importance of empowering trades unions.
Arbeid paid a six-figure sum last year to seven former employees and a veteran BBC journalist, admitting it defamed them in the aftermath of a Panorama investigation into its handling of antisemitism.
The party still faces several other legal claims that date back to Jeremy Corbyn’s time as leader, adding to its financial woes.
A hoped-for bounce in membership income has also failed to materialise. Labour membership surged in early 2020 in the run-up to Starmer’s election as leader, but has been sliding since.
Labour has been approached for comment.