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Union staff have warned Keir Starmer that any decision to make compulsory layoffs as part of a drastic cost-cutting campaign is likely to result in a strike.

David Evans, the party’s general secretary, told staff in July that the party leadership is seeking at least 90 layoffs as it tries to mend Labor party finances after several costly legal battles and three general elections in six years.

Labor has said it will seek to effect the cuts through voluntary layoffs, but the target represents well over a quarter of all party staff.

Members of two unions representing Labor staff – GMB and Unite – announced on Tuesday that a majority of those consulted in an indicative ballot said they would support the strike if the party tried to impose mandatory layoffs.

Among Unite members, 78% of staff with a 90% turnout said they would support a strike, while among GMB members the figure was 76% with a 79% turnout.

The high turnout and the decisive result seemed to indicate significant dissatisfaction among party staff as Starmer and Evans attempted to transform the party into a leaner electoral fighting force.

In a joint statement, the two unions said they would meet with the union leadership on Friday and hope that “an agreement can be found on a way forward that avoids compulsory dismissals and industrial action.”

The row comes at an extremely awkward time for the Labor leadership, just weeks before Starmer’s first in-person conference in Brighton, and with growing rumblings of discontent among some MPs over the party leadership.

A party source suggested management would be likely to make concessions, rather than risking the embarrassing spectacle of a strike at a conference where Labor is keen to make pro-worker policy announcements.

Starmer’s deputy Angela Rayner – a former union representative – is a fictitious state secretary for the future of work and has stressed the importance of holding unions accountable.

Labor paid a six-figure sum last year to seven former employees and a veteran BBC journalist, admitting to defaming them following a Panorama investigation into its handling of anti-Semitism.

The party still faces several other legal claims that date back to Jeremy Corbyn’s time as leader, exacerbating its financial woes.

The hoped-for rebound in member incomes also failed to materialize. Union membership jumped in early 2020 in the run-up to Starmer being elected as leader, but has since declined.

The work has been approached for comment.

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