Len McCluskey

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Len McCluskey
Len McCluskey, 2016 Labour Party Conference 2.jpg
McCluskey at the 2016 Labour Party Conference
General Secretary of Unite the Union
In office
1 January 2011 – 26 August 2021
Preceded byDerek Simpson
Tony Woodley
Succeeded bySharon Graham
Secretary of the General Workers Trade Group of the Transport and General Workers' Union
In office
Preceded byPeter Evans
Succeeded byPost abolished
Personal details
Leonard David McCluskey

(1950-07-23) 23 July 1950 (age 71)
Liverpool, England
Political partyLabour
OccupationTrade unionist

Leonard David McCluskey (born 23 July 1950) is a British trade unionist. He was General Secretary of Unite the Union, the largest affiliate and a major donor to the Labour Party.[1] As a young adult, he spent some years working in the Liverpool Docks for the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company[2] 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. A member of the Labour Party, McCluskey is on the party's hard left. He was a key backer and supporter of Jeremy Corbyn during his time as Leader of the Labour Party.

Early life[edit]

Leonard David McCluskey[3] was born in Liverpool, Lancashire on 23 July 1950,[4] the son of a painter-decorator, after whom he was named, and Peggy, who politically inspired her son.[2] He failed the 11-plus, but passed the 13-plus, intended for late developers.[5] A Catholic,[5] he attended the Cardinal Godfrey Technical High School, a grammar school, in Anfield.[6] Leaving school with three A-levels, he began his working life on the Canada Dock, part of the Port of Liverpool.[5]

Employed by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company from 1972) 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.[5] He worked for the company for 11 years.[7]

Early trade union activism[edit]

McCluskey joined the Transport and General Workers' Union (T&GWU) in 1968, and became a shop steward for the union the following year.[8] 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.[2] After joining the Labour Party in 1970,[7] he became an officer of the T&GWU in Merseyside in 1979 and was its campaign organiser throughout the 1980s.[8]

During the 1980s 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".[7]

McCluskey was elected as the National Secretary of the T&GWU General Workers group in 1990, and moved to London to work in the union's national headquarters.[9]

In 2004, he became the T&GWU's national organiser for the service industries.[9][10] 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.[9]

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.[11] 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".[12]

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".[2] Labour politician Jon Trickett told George Eaton in 2016: "He got to the top through force of personality, intellect and organising skill".[1] 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.[7][13] 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".[14][15]

Unite and McCluskey backed Ed Miliband to become the next Labour leader in 2010.[13] The votes of members 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 per cent each) which was in force at the time.[16][17]

General Secretaryship of Unite[edit]

2010 and 2013 Unite election[edit]

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, beating Jerry Hicks, Les Bayliss and Gail Cartmail.[9] He gained 101,000 votes in a total 16 per cent turnout of around 1.5 million members.[18]

Simpson retired in December 2010, and Woodley followed shortly after that, leaving McCluskey to take office as the General Secretary on 1 January 2011.[11] 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".[19]

In 2013, McCluskey announced that he would be running for re-election as General Secretary.[20] He was re-elected in April 2013 with 144,570 votes against Jerry Hicks with 79,819 votes on a turnout of 15.2 per cent.[21] In September 2013, Hicks complained 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. However, the union was obliged by law to give them a vote (very few actually voted).[22]

Relations with Ed Miliband[edit]

In an April 2013 interview for the New Statesman, McCluskey urged Miliband to drop three "Blairite" shadow ministers from his frontbench team.[16] 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".[23]

In July 2013, there were allegations of vote rigging in the Falkirk constituency. A consultation over an all-women shortlist was abandoned over fears that not all members had been invited to participate.[24] 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 in line with the union's political strategy. Miliband called in the police to establish whether there had been criminal behaviour.[25] The police investigation was dropped in July. Murphy dropped out as a potential candidate in September 2013,[26] and the Labour Party investigation and report found that there had been no wrongdoing. Charges against Murphy and the CLP's chairman Stevie Deans were dismissed.[27]

McCluskey threatened to disaffiliate Unite from Labour and launch a new workers' party in March 2014 if Labour lost the 2015 general election,[28] which could cause Labour to cease to exist in its current form, according to Jim Pickard of the Financial Times.[17] 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".[29]

2015 and 2016 Labour leadership elections[edit]

During the 2015 Labour leadership election, Unite and McCluskey supported Jeremy Corbyn's candidacy,[30] later reasserted by McCluskey when some senior figures in the union wanted to support Andy Burnham.[31] According to George Eaton of the New Statesman, McCluskey was thought privately to share this view (which was denied by McCluskey, who was always a Corbyn supporter). Office space was supplied to Corbyn's campaign [1] and by March 2018, Unite had donated £11 million to the Labour Party since Corbyn became leader.[32]

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.[33]

2017 re-election as General Secretary[edit]

In December 2016, McCluskey resigned as General Secretary and stood again in a leadership election.[34] McCluskey's main challenger was Gerard Coyne, then Unite's organiser in the West Midlands.[35] McCluskey was re-elected in April 2017 by less than 6,000 votes over Coyne; 59,067 votes (45.4 per cent) to Coyne's 53,544 (41.5 per cent) on a turnout of 12.2 per cent. The other candidate was Ian Allinson who received 17,143 votes (13.1 per cent).[36][37] An investigation into Coyne's actions during the election, led by Andrew Murray, the union's chief of staff, resulted in Coyne being fired for the misuse of data in June 2017.[38] Coyne's subsequent complaint to the Trades Union Certification Officer was dismissed on all ten counts, and the officer found that Coyne had included misleading information in some of his election literature.[39]

His first book, Why You Should Be A Trade Unionist, was published in 2020.[40] His successor as General Secretary, Sharon Graham, was elected on 25 August 2021.


  • Why You Should Be A Trade Unionist. Verso Books. 2020. ISBN 9781788737876.
  • McCluskey, Len (2021). Always Red. OR Books. ISBN 978-1-68219-272-6.

Personal life[edit]

McCluskey was married to Ann for more than 20 years; the couple had a son. After moving to the T&GWU lead office in London, McCluskey had a child with Jennie Formby in 1991; both names are listed on the birth certificate.[41] From 1994, McCluskey lived with Paula Lace, now Williams, with whom he had a daughter.[8]


  1. ^ a b c Eaton, George (13 July 2016). "Len McCluskey profile: Labour's kingmaker". New Statesman. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d "Profile: Len McCluskey, Unite leader". BBC News. 6 December 2016. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  3. ^ Booth, Robert (8 September 2016). "'I was politicised by the docks': the rise of Len McCluskey". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
  4. ^ Macintyre, Donald (5 July 2013). "Why Len McCluskey made Ed Miliband see red". The Independent. London. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d McAskill, Ewen (7 April 2017). "Len McCluskey: 'If Labour is divided, we're in trouble. Give Jeremy a chance'". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  6. ^ "Len McCluskey voted new leader of trade union Unite". Liverpool Echo. 22 November 2010. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d Hernon, Ian (18 December 2009). "Ian Hernon speaks to union leader and ex-Liverpool docker Len McCluskey". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 21 November 2010.
  8. ^ a b c MacIntyre, Donald (5 July 2013). "Why Len McCluskey made Ed Miliband see red". The Independent. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d "Len McCluskey chosen as new Unite leader". BBC News. 21 November 2010. Retrieved 21 November 2010.
  10. ^ Waddington, Marc (25 October 2010). "City trade union stalwart Len McCluskey in running for top Unite job". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 21 November 2010.
  11. ^ a b Mann, Emily (13 September 2010). "Len McCluskey: Burning desire". New Statesman. Retrieved 21 November 2010.
  12. ^ Gilligan, Andrew (20 March 2010). "British Airways strike: The rise of 'Red' Len McCluskey". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  13. ^ a b McSmith, Andy (3 April 2011). "Len McCluskey: Union man who wants to unite the nation against cuts". The Independent. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
  14. ^ Cross, Ciaran (2016). "Starting from Scratch: A Manifesto for UK Labour Law" (PDF). International Union Rights. International Centre for Trade Union Rights. 23 (2): 10. doi:10.14213/inteuniorigh.23.2.0010.
  15. ^ "Len McCluskey: We support IER's "genuine alternative" for UK labour laws". Institute for Employment Rights. 24 June 2016. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  16. ^ a b Eaton, George (24 April 2013). "Len McCluskey: If Ed Miliband is seduced by the Blairites, he'll be defeated". New Statesman. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  17. ^ a b Pickard, Jim (18 May 2015). "Q&A: Is Len McCluskey Labour's kingmaker?". Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  18. ^ Milmo, Dan; Wintour, Patrick (24 November 2010). "Incoming Unite boss Len McCluskey urges BA to resume negotiations". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  19. ^ McCluskey, Len (19 December 2010). "Unions, get set for battle". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  20. ^ "Re-elect Len McCluskey - Unite 4 Len - Len McCluskey for Unite General Secretary". Unite 4 Len. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  21. ^ "Len McCluskey re-elected as Unite general secretary". Unite the Union. 14 April 2013. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  22. ^ Ramesh, Randeep (9 September 2013). "Len McCluskey rival calls for Unite leadership election result to be annulled". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  23. ^ Ross, Tim (24 April 2013). "Ed Miliband attacks 'disloyal' Len McCluskey for dividing Labour". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  24. ^ Sylvester, Rachel (2 July 2013). "Does Len McCluskey or Ed Miliband run Labour?". The Times. Retrieved 11 March 2018. (subscription required)
  25. ^ Howarth, Angus (4 July 2013). "Falkirk: Labour call in police over rigging claim". The Scotsman. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  26. ^ Syal, Rajeev (6 September 2013). "Karie Murphy withdraws as Labour candidate for Falkirk after union row". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  27. ^ Wintour, Patrick (8 September 2013). "Unite chief: union has been vindicated over Falkirk vote-rigging claims". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  28. ^ McSmith, Andy (1 April 2014). "Unite union boss Len McCluskey threatens to launch party to rival Labour". The Independent. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  29. ^ Gilligan, Andrew (16 May 2015). "How Unite's Len McCluskey became Labour Party puppet master". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  30. ^ Syal, Rajeev (5 July 2015). "Jeremy Corbyn gets backing of Unite in Labour leadership race". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  31. ^ Mason, Rowena (20 August 2015). "Unite boss reiterates support for Corbyn after union officials back Burnham". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  32. ^ Eaton, George; Wilby, Peter; Bush, Stephen; Maguire, Kevin; Chakelian, Anoosh (5 March 2018). "The meaning of Corbynism". New Statesman. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  33. ^ Aitkenhead, Decca (22 July 2016). "Len McCluskey: 'Who's going to be the king? Which one's Corbyn, and which one's us?'". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  34. ^ Syal, Rajeev (6 December 2016). "Len McCluskey resigns as head of Unite but will run again for leadership". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 17 February 2017.
  35. ^ McAskill, Ewen (25 February 2017). "Unite union 'wasted cash on Labour leadership vote'". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  36. ^ Syal, Rajeev (21 April 2017). "Len McCluskey re-elected leader of Unite by narrow margin". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  37. ^ "Unite announces general secretary election result". Unite the Union. 21 April 2017.
  38. ^ Syal, Rajeev (20 June 2017). "Unite official who lost to Len McCluskey in leadership race 'sacked'". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  39. ^ Busby, Mattha (6 October 2018). "Len McCluskey complaints dismissed by union watchdog". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
  40. ^ https://www.unitetheunion.org/news-events/news/2020/january/uncertain-times-mean-working-people-need-trade-unions-more-than-ever-says-mccluskey-in-must-read-new-book/
  41. ^ Grew, Tony (21 July 2013). "Love child link of union's top brass". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 28 February 2018. (subscription required)
Trade union offices
Preceded by
Peter Evans
Secretary of the General Workers Trade Group
of the Transport and General Workers' Union

Succeeded by
Preceded by
General Secretary of Unite
Succeeded by
Preceded by