Len is the assistant general secretary of the union, having previously been a national officer from the T&G section.
He is a long-time supporter of the left and of Liverpool city council in the 1980s which took on the Thatcher government to improve the lives of working people in that city.
Alliance of resistance
He recently told the Guardian: “If workers have confidence, then my experience tells me that anything is possible.
Look at what happened with Thatcher and the poll tax. It was people power that brought down a person who seemed impregnable.”
On the attacks of the Con-Dem government he said: “We need to create an alliance of resistance because our members don’t want pay freezes, pay cuts and a tax on their services and communities. The unions have to be responsible for coordinating that action.”
And on strike action against these attacks, he added: “They talk about public sector workers as if they’re devils.
We’re talking about people who teach our children, treat the sick, clean our streets, people who are responsible for building the fabric of the communities in which we live.
We need to tell our private sector workers that this is their fight too.”
Unite members, up against the onslaught of the government, will welcome such statements, but whoever is elected general secretary will face a different economic and political climate than did their predecessors Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson.
If he or she does not lead a fight with the members, then members will have to initiate struggles from below against cuts and redundancies.
Len McCluskey is not the only candidate standing from the left; sacked convenor from Rolls Royce Bristol, Jerry Hicks, is also putting his name forward.
Jerry stood in the Amicus general secretary elections in 2009, coming a credible runner-up to Simpson.
Jerry was the only genuine left candidate in that field and received nearly 40,000 votes (24.8%). The Socialist Party supported Jerry in that election from the beginning, unlike some of his current supporters, who initially endorsed a right-wing candidate, covered in a left banner.
His programme appears more ‘left’ than Len McCluskey’s. Jerry is in favour of the repeal of anti-union laws and confronting them when necessary.
He would like to see the election of all officials and the general secretary on an average member’s wage.
He would prioritise public ownership and pensions, and puts forward the need for a public works programme.
Those are all policies we would support. But Jerry made a crucial mistake in walking out of the hustings of the United Left in autumn 2009 and that act has lost him a lot of support in the union.
He is seen as not wanting to explain his policies.
Socialists have influence inside the left by vocalising the pressure for action. This will be absolutely necessary in the next period. Excluding ourselves at this stage is a mistake. Labour
Also, Jerry Hicks’ position on the Labour Party is not fundamentally different to McCluskey’s.
Jerry believes disaffiliation “will also alienate the very best of Labour members, MPs and councillors”! Len calls for resources to be poured into the party; yet this can only be financial resources – Unite spent £4 million on Labour in the general election!
There is not the appetite among most Unite members to re-enter the party to reclaim it, particularly if Labour councils act as Cameron and Clegg’s agents locally.
And John McDonnell, who the union’s policy conference strongly wanted on the ballot paper, could not even get enough nominations for party leader.
Sooner or later Unite must decide to no longer back the pro-big business Labour Party
The danger of Jerry Hicks standing is that a split candidature of the left could let in a right-wing candidate, either Les Bayliss or Gail Cartmail, and this would set the union back.
The programme of Bayliss in particular does not gain an echo amongst Unite activists, even more from the Amicus tradition.
He will be relying on the more passive layers of the membership for support.
We cannot ignore these points or consider them irrelevant. If a right-wing candidate is elected in a first-past-the-post election, and the left vote is fatally split, then recriminations will break out in the union.
But we will not give Len McCluskey or any other left candidate in trade union elections carte blanche support.
Our support for McCluskey is qualified by demands for a socialist economic programme for the union, democratic election of officials, withdrawal from the Labour Party, an open election campaign, democratic procedures in United Left and so on.
These are the issues at stake in Unite in this election.