The trade union Unite yesterday elected Len McCluskey as its new leader. The combative McCluskey will lead Unite’s 1.7m members as the union attempts to take on the coalition government over widespread cuts.
McCluskey spoke to the New Statesman back in September, and the interview reveals a lot about what we can expected from the new general secretary — particularly the relationship that the union will have with Labour.
Unite backed Ed Miliband in the recent leadership election and — even more significantly — is one of the party’s main financial backers. McCluskey is not content to be a silent benefactor, however: he wants some bang for his buck.
“I’m not for leaving the Labour Party, but I’m not going to continue the line of just handing over millions of pounds without it demonstrating it is changing.”
McCluskey said that he wanted to make Labour “our party again.”
If Labour still wants Unite’s cash, it must return to its roots and protect workers more, according to McCluskey. “After 13 years of New Labour, British workers are still the worst-protected in Europe.”
Elsewhere in the interview, McCluskey defended the 1970s as a period of progress for workers’ rights.
“The media are constantly trying to rewrite history. We are all supposed to believe now that the 1970s was a horrible time. It wasn’t at all. It was a time of great advances for working people, such as equal pay and health and safety legislation.”
“If the papers want to accuse me of having not moved from my original principles,” he continued, “then I happily plead guilty.”
Statements such as these – and his role in the recent BA strikes – have made him unpopular in certain parts of the press, who have dubbed him “Red Len”. McCluskey, however, is strident in his defence of Unite’s actions in the BA affair.
Willie Walsh wanted “unconditional surrender” and had “made the kind of attacks on decent people that should not be tolerated in a civilised society and, if only the media focused on them, would shock people,” said McCluskey.
McCluskey is a trenchant and unapologetic proponent of strike action, leads one of the UK’s biggest unions and helps bankroll the Labour party. He is arguably one of Britain’s most influential people and will certainly gain a high profile as the cuts begin to bite this winter. Read the New Statesman‘s profile to find out more about McCluskey.