Coffee House

Len McCluskey: Fine to reform Labour’s union link, but I want more power

24 July 2013

Today’s broadcast from Len McCluskey Land was always going to be fun. For those of us who only lived through the tail end of the 1980s, the Unite General Secretary’s speech was a useful glimpse of that decade and the one before. It was also peppered with some great characters: a chap who Len called Paul Dackery who, when not editing a national newspaper that made a rather embarrassing editorial judgement 80 years ago, apparently likes to go around licking people’s boots. McCluskey addressed Dacre and his colleagues at the Mail, saying ‘we know you like to kick the poor while licking the boots of the rich’. Apart from anything else, kicking and licking at the same time would make for quite impressive gymnastics on the part of this Mr Dackery, whose name is such poison to the Unite leader that he didn’t even want to pronounce it properly.

Offstage, a small violin wept as McCluskey turned on the ‘Tory media and New Labour spin doctors’, who apparently ‘will never ever be able to understand the solidarity of working people’. A funny thing to say in the week that polling found 61 per cent of Unite members don’t think McCluskey or Ed Miliband represent them or the things they care about, but never mind. McCluskey didn’t seem that bothered, defending his union so robustly that he even said ‘your union did nothing wrong in Falkirk’ as he insisted that it had stuck to the rules, even if the rules were a bit bad and might, he conceded, need changing. McCluskey has already criticised the report into the row, which he hasn’t seen, but which his political director was able to read and take notes on. Today he stuck the knife in a bit further, saying the report was ‘a shoddy force which every one of you here… would recognise as a disgrace’.


This was all a nice bit of drama, but not surprising. What will cause more meaningful drama in the months ahead is the direction in which Len is clearly taking his union. While he was very keen to say that Ed Miliband’s speech about reforming the Labour link with the trade unions was ‘an opportunity, not a threat’, he also made perfectly clear that it’s not just the link that must change: it’s the party too. He spoke of the need for Labour to present itself as a party attractive to Unite members in order to attract sufficient numbers of them to register as affiliate members.

The funny thing is, Len might find a Labour party that is really attractive to Unite members is not one that he personally finds attractive. Lord Ashcroft (and goodness knows what funny name the Unite boss would give this right-wing villain) found that 86 per cent of Unite members back the government’s £26,000 benefit cap. Awkwardly, quite a lot of them enjoy reading that nasty Mr Dackery’s paper, too: 20 per cent against 11 per cent who read the Mirror and 11 per cent who read the Guardian.

But back in Lenland, the Labour party will have to become more attractive at least to McCluskey himself. Because the clear line from this speech was that the union will happily submit to the ‘bold’ reforms proposed by Ed Miliband so long as it gets more of a say in policy-making. And the threat was there too: McCluskey said the union’s political fund could be put to a ‘variety’ of uses, ‘not just handing over to the Labour party as has generally happened’. Which shows just how bold Miliband is going to have to be, not just in reforming the specific union link, but in keeping control of his party’s policymaking process.

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  • McRobbie

    Thats what socialism and communism does, power would go to unelected bigots like red len, or, heaven forbid, the crowman. Who on the left really cares about democracy, all they want is power and the control and possessions that power will give them.

  • drydamol1


    Cameron is going to personally thank the Queen for her
    Royal Assent on the Gay Marriage Bill – Why Did it save the Country from Disaster,
    from Economic Ruin,no it saved his Political Skin , only after MP’s were threatened by the Whip their careers
    were over if they didn’t vote for it .While he is there can he tell her Maj
    that her new Great Grandson will grow up privileged whilst 3 in 4 babies born
    at the same time will grow up in Poverty.Biased Media are Portraying McClusky
    as an Ogre for wanting more say over Labour Policies and Why not Tory Donors
    get the same favours but for corrupt business practices not to rebalance
    Conservative Policies by the Labour Party.Monsanto the GM crop firm has just
    Bought the Largest Private Mercenary Army in the World ,I pity Farmers who
    refuse to plant their harmful inefficient seeds.

    Paper utility Bills to be charged for – Corporate Britain.

  • thanksdellingpole

    The unions will never be happier than when the BNP are in power.

  • HookesLaw

    I’m getting a bit worried.
    Is there a recall mechanism for the UNITE leader?
    I hope not; as a true tory I hope he is given every opportunity to speak out.
    You can have too much democracy I think. Long may he reign in Lenyland.

    Lenyland BTW is very much the same as Legoland, its just one brick short of a full house.

    • Wessex Man

      Yes much like the tory party donors who give their shareholders no voice about donations!

  • AndyB

    McCluskey has just sublimed and become an adjective. I think the birth of a future monarch tipped him over the edge IMHO.

    • HookesLaw

      More like the picture of a beautiful and popular future Queen.

  • Nicholas chuzzlewit

    As Oscar Wiilde once said, “you would need a heart of stone not to laugh”. Ed Milliband makes a big display of limiting Union power and influence over the Labour party and Len McCluskey is, not unreasonably from his perspective, treating it as a springboard to expand Union power and influence over said party. Milliband, pathetically desperate to appear decisive, acted in haste and can now repent at leisure. What a nice day!

  • allymax bruce

    Quite a bit of sneering going on Isabel; can’t you control your hoorey-henrietta hankerings ?
    Len McCluskey is moving his union away from the MSM /Westminster sneering elitist class pretendy-trendy bubble; and quite right too. It’s time there was a political party that represented the working middle class, and not only use them as a tax cash-cow!
    There’s nothing like a good fair decent piece of unbiased journalism, Isabel. Hey, guess what! This is nothing like a good fair decent piece of unbiased journalism!

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      The trouble is old boy that Mr McCluskey seems to believe he has a mandate to run Britain as he sees fit as oppose to a mandate to protect the employment interests of his members. Perhaps smebody should remind him of what his job description actually contains.

      • allymax bruce

        Nich’, I think you’re right. But because of the void of political representation, Labour has forced into the political working middle class domain, Len McCluskey, Bob Crowe, and the other union bosses actually do hold a huge amount of political power; but they’re unsure how to best use it just now. But they’ll figure it out.

        • Makroon

          I don’t think you need to worry.
          The great bulk of ordinary citizens (unionised or not), have only the haziest notion of who McCluskey is, and zero interest in studying his “dialectic”.

    • Noa

      You make an interesting point. Like the Right, and probably for very similar reasons, including disgust with the leadership of its complacent metropolitan elite, the Left is splintering into sub factions.

      I very much doubt though, that McCluskey and Unite, seek to represent the best interests of the working ‘middle class’, as you describe them. His early history describes him a Liverpool docker but makes no mention of his political affiliations. Like most at that time one suspects that he was originally on the extreme left, probably a member of the Party or the SWP; then moving seamlessly into a position of power in the establishment through a complaisant Labour party.
      Does anyone know comrade McCluskey’s real antecedents?

      • MirthaTidville

        He`s a Liverpool Docker…tells you all you need to know

        • Noa

          But not his education, trainig or likely political beliefs about which information is non existant.

          Is he, like many senior Labour and TU figures a former or current Communist or SWP member?

        • Tom M

          I remember them going on strike in the 60s or 70s demanding “embarassment money” for unloading toilets from a ship (true, maybe the dates are wrong). Looking at the photo above it seems just as stupid now as it did then.
          Lest we forget.

    • MirthaTidville

      Unfortunately Ally you are behind the curve..a bit like your hero..Most of the working middle class, as you put it, have aspirations well above you and Mc Clinker

      • allymax bruce

        I think you’re seeing for them; you seem to be expecting the working middle class to take on your views!

    • Greenslime

      I agree with you. But it should be said, Lenny Boy’s democracy tends to come out of the bottle marked, ‘ I’ll tell you what you think”. If you don’t agree with him, you are wrong and don’t deserve to be listened to because you are wrong.

      • allymax bruce

        That’s always going to be the way; the ‘workers’ actually want an executive to stand at the front for them. It used to be the ‘political wing’ but Bliar, and now Miliband, The Labour Party have disowned that social / political relationship they used to have. So, the unions will come back strong, but without Labour. That’s why I see The Conservatives taking advantage of this; UKIP too.

    • HookesLaw

      Can you elaborate further on the political strategy you would like to see for an independent Scotland and the role of its trade unions?

      • allymax bruce

        HookesLaw, yes. Just the way RMT Bob Crowe is doing now; the ability to move between political party’s, while holding traditional trade union values. The trade unions lost their way when Bliar forced clause4 on them; the way forward for the trade unions is to restructure, regenerate, and redefine; all away from Labour. Labour are not going back, to the future; Labour have ‘bought-into’ the International Marxist Republican ideal of politics; where a permanent oligarchy disowns, & eventually subsumes, the electorate, their unions, and the right to vote. Both Bliar, and Miliband, have shown they expect the unions to just fall into Labour Party ‘line’, but, the way forward for the unions, is to go back to their traditional structure, how they generate their organisation, and to rebrand, renew, & redefine these values. In Scotland, we have a very strong traditional sense of what the role of the trade unions are; our Scottish National Party, (SNP), are working well with our unions, and are building a very strong working middle class relationship. The Scottish Socialist Party are available too. Scotland is settled, stable, and ready for independence. In contrast, Westminster is going through a flux of change.

        • MirthaTidville

          Back to the 1970`s Comrade….but keep spouting this stuff Ally..its important it will keep Liebour out of power for yonks…Brilliant stuff

          • allymax bruce

            Thanks for your support; glad somebody finally ‘cottoned-on’.
            Everything I write falls into two categories; either political analysis, or political art.
            You choose which, is which.

            • Wessex Man

              and there I was thinking it was just the blarneying of a bad tempered Scot racist who had sat on a thistle while wearing a kilt and was blaming us English for not telling him said thistle was there!

  • MirthaTidville

    McCluskey doesnt give a monkeys about what his members want or think.All they are good for is providing the subs so he can bully and barnstorm to his hearts content. A thoughly immoral buffoon in the mould of ` Red Robbo`..(Google it for those not old enough to remember that idiot and what happened to him). He wont win but will do a lot of harm to Labour….got plenty of popcorn stached for the coming months he he

  • Chris lancashire

    McCluskey and his like-minded predecessors have performed a very useful function for the UK. Without their loud mouths and stupid actions the introduction of sensible trade union legislation would have been much more difficult.
    More power to Len’s elbow (and mouth)!

  • Noa

    Remarkably, in the distopian world of a future labour government, I would rather have the forthright, combative Len McCluskey as a PM than the boy flop Miliband.
    At least the bullet will come from the front and not in the back.

  • Wessex Man

    Yes this is certainly the ugly face of the Unions!

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