Len McCluskey at 2016 Labour Party Conference
|General Secretary of Unite the Union|
Assumed office |
1 January 2011
Leonard David McCluskey|
23 July 1950
Leonard David McCluskey (born 23 July 1950) is a British trade unionist. He is general secretary of Unite the Union, the largest affiliate and a major donor to the Labour Party. As a young adult, he spent some years working as a draughtsman in the Liverpool Docks for the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company prior to becoming a full-time union official for the Transport and General Workers' Union (T&GWU) in 1979.
McCluskey was elected as the general secretary of Unite in 2010, and was re-elected to his post in 2013 and 2017. He has been a prominent backer and supporter of Jeremy Corbyn who, since September 2015, has been the leader of the Labour Party.
McCluskey was born in north Liverpool the son of a painter-decorator, after whom he was named, and Peggy, who politically inspired her son. He failed the 11-plus, but passed the 13-plus, intended for late developers. A Catholic, he attended the Cardinal Godfrey School in Anfield. Leaving school with 3 A-levels, he began his working life briefly employed as docker at the Canada Dock, part of the Port of Liverpool.
Employed by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company from 1972), he soon moved to a clerical post as a draughtsman. As a ship’s planner, he drew maps indicating the location of cargo in the hold so it could be retrieved at the unloading port. He worked for the company for 11 years.
Early trade union activism
McCluskey joined the Transport and General Workers' Union (T&GWU) in 1968, and became a shop steward for the union the following year. He was involved in unionising the white collar staff in the Liverpool docks among whom previously there had been an absence of trade union organisation. After joining the Labour Party in 1970, he became an officer of the T&GWU in Merseyside in 1979 and was its campaign organiser throughout the 1980s.
During the decade he became a close friend of Tony Mulhearn and Derek Hatton, then deputy leader of Liverpool City Council, and supported the Militant tendency. "I would never, ever deny that", he told the Liverpool Echo in 2009 "but I never became a member". He added: "In the end I decided that Militant was too sectarian from a political standpoint to be effective. But I believe that on the chief issues they were right".
In 2004, he became the T&GWU's national organiser for the service industries. In 2007, he was appointed as the Assistant General Secretary for Industrial Strategy of the Unite the Union, a merger of the T&GWU and Amicus.
He defines himself as being on the left of the union, and has been given the label of "Red Len" in the British press because of his involvement in Unite's dispute with British Airways. In a speech at the 2010 Durham Miners' Gala he said political developments in Cuba and Venezuela should be better known, and suggested the reason they were not was because of "the fear of the good example".
However, in March 2012 the industrial correspondent of the Press Association, Alan Jones, distinguished McCluskey during the BA dispute from the former National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) leader Arthur Scargill: "I think he's more willing to cut a deal". Labour politician Jon Trickett told George Eaton in 2016: "He got to the top through force of personality, intellect and organising skill". He expressed regret in 2009, and again in 2011, that the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did not reverse the legislative changes affecting trade unions of the immediately preceding Conservative governments. He argued in June 2016, that the changes made by those governments have "left the lowest paid and the most vulnerable workers in our society in dire straits".
Unite and McCluskey backed Ed Miliband to become the next Labour leader in 2010. The combined union votes of Unite, plus Unison and the GMB, were enough for Miliband to be elected leader over the preference for his brother, David Miliband, of party members and MPs in the electoral college (by then 33% each) which was in force at the time.
General Secretary of Unite
2010 and 2013 Unite election
In 2010, McCluskey ran for election as General Secretary of Unite to replace joint-General Secretaries Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, who had both announced their retirement. On 21 November 2010, it was announced that McCluskey had been elected to the post. He gained 101,000 votes in a total 16% turnout of around 1.5 million members.
Derek Simpson retired in December 2010, and Tony Woodley followed shortly after that, leaving McCluskey to take office as the General Secretary on 1 January 2011. In December 2010, McCluskey wrote in The Guardian that "there is no case for cuts at all", the government's "austerity frenzy" being "whipped up for explicitly ideological reasons" to complete "Thatcherism's unfinished business by strangling the welfare state".
In 2013, McCluskey announced that he would be running for re-election as General Secretary. He was re-elected in April 2013 with 144,570 votes against Jerry Hicks 79,819 votes on a turnout of 15.2%.
In was reported in September 2013 that Hicks had made an official complaint to the trade union watchdog, the certification officer, that the result should be declared void as 156,000 ballot papers had been sent to people no longer paying union subscriptions, reputedly for many years, but the union had decided they should still be eligible to vote.
Relations with Ed Miliband
In an April 2013 interview for the New Statesman, McCluskey urged Miliband to drop three "Blairite" shadow ministers from his frontbench team. A spokesman for Miliband said McCluskey did not speak for the party and the "attempt to divide the Labour Party is reprehensible" and was "disloyal to the party".
In July 2013, an alleged vote rigging scandal in the Falkirk constituency became publicly known. A consultation over an all-women shortlist was abandoned over fears not all members had received it. This was thought suspicious because Unite's preferred candidate was Karie Murphy. Meanwhile, Unite had paid for scores of people to join the Labour Party who were often unaware of their new membership. Miliband called in the police to investigate if anything illegal had occurred in Falkirk.
The police investigation was dropped in July. Murphy dropped out as a potential candidate in September 2013, and the Labour Party dropped further investigation, charges against Murphy and the CLP's chairman Stevie Deans, and their suspension.
McCluskey threatened to disaffiliate Unite from Labour and launch a new workers' party in March 2014 if Labour lost the 2015 general election, which would be enough for Labour to cease to exist in its current form, according to Jim Pickard of the Financial Times. Following Labour's electoral defeat, he found fault with the party's policy proposals which he thought were "not particularly radical" and believed the party had fallen "for the Tories’ austerity trap".
2015 and 2016 Labour leadership elections
During the 2015 Labour leadership election, Unite and McCluskey advocated support for Jeremy Corbyn's candidacy, later reasserted by McCluskey when some senior figures in the union wanted to support Andy Burnham. According to George Eaton of the New Statesman, McCluskey was thought privately to share this view (which the union denied), but office space was supplied to Corbyn's campaign. By March 2018, Unite had donated £11 million to the Labour Party since Corbyn became leader.
McCluskey later termed the events of June and July 2016 concerning Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party as a "crazy vote of no confidence, this mass resignation" and "this coup attempt" in an interview with Decca Aitkenhead of The Guardian.
2017 re-election as General Secretary
In December 2016, McCluskey resigned as General Secretary and stood again in a leadership election. McCluskey's main challenger was Gerard Coyne, then Unite's organiser in the West Midlands. McCluskey was re-elected in April 2017 by less than 6,000 votes over Coyne; 59,067 votes (45.4%) to Coyne's 53,544 (41.5%) on a turnout of 12.2%. The other candidate was Ian Allinson who received 17,143 votes (13.1%). The subsequent investigation into Coyne's actions, led by Andrew Murray, the union's chief of staff, resulted in Coyne being fired for the misuse of data in June 2017.
McCluskey was married to Ann for more than 20 years; the couple had a son. After moving to London as part of the T&GWU national operation, McCluskey had a child with Jennie Formby in 1991; both names are listed on the birth certificate. Since 1994, McCluskey has lived with Paula Lace.
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- Grew, Tony (21 July 2013). "Love child link of union's top brass". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 28 February 2018. (subscription required)
|Non-profit organization positions|
| Secretary of the General Workers Trade Group of the Transport and General Workers' Union
| General Secretary of Unite