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Who is Len McCluskey – and will he fight?

Well! In Unite’s leadership election, left-wing candidate Len McCluskey won with over 100,000 votes. Over 50,000 members voted for second-placed Jerry Hicks, who campaigned on a rank and file ticket. As readers will know, I supported Hicks.

Just days after his election, McCluskey told the Coalition of Resistance (CoR) conference that we need “people power” on the scale of the anti-poll tax movement. He said “I will be instructing our area activists’ committees to link up with local anti-cuts groups” and has reportedly pledged Unite’s support for CoR.

So who is Len McCluskey, and will he lead a fight to stop the cuts?

The 60-year-old was a shop steward on the Liverpool docks for a decade before becoming a full-time official for the Transport and General Workers’ Union (T&G) in 1979. Since 1990, McCluskey has been a national official, most recently in charge of industrial strategy and centrally involved in the British Airways cabin crew dispute. Here his shortcomings have been disastrous.

He buckled before the courts last Christmas, calling off a 12-day strike despite a 90 per cent vote for action. Then he caved in to media pressure, signalling that the union would not strike over Easter. Another court ruling saw him calling off action after more than 20 strike days had BA on the run. Since then, McCluskey has repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) tried to get members to accept BA’s terms. Only the militancy of the shop stewards has stopped a sell-out.

But for most Unite members, particularly the 101,000 who voted for him, McCluskey comes across as a fighter. If he is to prove his worth, he should ballot all members in the public services to strike alongside teachers in defence of pensions, call for strikes and occupations to defend jobs and services, and mobilise for the TUC demo on 26 March, laying on trains and buses to get members there.

As for the 53,000 who voted for Hicks, we have an additional task: organise a rank and file movement across Unite, which can take on the government and the bosses – with McCluskey where possible, without him where necessary.

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