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Len McCluskey

Leonard David McCluskey Wiki

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 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 key backer and supporter of Jeremy Corbyn since his election as Leader of the Labour Party in 2015.

 Latest updates


  • Ephraim Mirvis accused Jeremy Corbyn of failing to tackle Labour anti-Semitism
  • Len McCluskey labelled Chief Rabbi’s remarks ‘wrong’ and ‘quite extraordinary’
  • Unite general secretary said he ‘fundamentally disagreed’ with Rabbi Mirvis 

Len McCluskey, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s main allies, has attacked Grand Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis after claiming that the Labor leader is not fit to be prime minister.

Rabbi Mirvis used a newspaper article on Tuesday to organize an unprecedented intervention in the general election campaign, as he said that anti-Semitism in the Labor Party was a “poison sanctioned from above.”

He also claimed that Labor’s claims that he is doing everything possible to combat anti-Jewish racism in the party was a “liar fiction.”

But McCluskey, the secretary general of Unite the union, responded today to criticism by condemning the “quite extraordinary” comments.

The work has been repeatedly shaken by accusations of anti-Semitism during Corbyn’s tenure as leader.

The party is currently being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the handling of these complaints.

Early life

Leonard David McCluskey was born in Liverpool, Lancashire on 23 July 1950, 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, a grammar school, in Anfield. Leaving school with three A-levels, he began his working life on 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) 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.


General Secretaryship 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, beating Jerry Hicks, Les Bayliss and Gail Cartmail. He gained 101,000 votes in a total 16 per cent 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 with 79,819 votes on a turnout of 15.2 per cent. 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).

Relations and 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, 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. 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. The police investigation was dropped in July. Murphy dropped out as a potential candidate in September 2013, 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.

McCluskey threatened to disaffiliate Unite from Labour and launch a new workers’ party in March 2014 if Labour lost the 2015 general election, which could cause 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

McCluskey at the 2016 Labour Party Conference
During the 2015 Labour leadership election, Unite and McCluskey supported 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 was denied by McCluskey, who was always a Corbyn supporter). Office space was supplied to Corbyn’s campaign and 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 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). 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. 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.

Personal life

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. From 1994, McCluskey lived with Paula Lace, now Williams, with whom he had a daughter. He married Alicia in 2007 and they divorced in 2018.

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