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McCluskey wins strong mandate for second term at Unite’s helm

Len McCluskey, the leader of Britain’s largest trade union, has won a convincing victory in his battle for re-election.

McCluskey was opposed by Jerry Hicks in the election for general secretary of Unite, which represents 1.4 million workers in a variety of sectors. He was first elected for a five-year term in 2010, with this contest brought forward to avoid a clash with the 2015 general election.

McCluskey, backed by the union’s United Left grouping, won 144,570 votes in the election, to Hicks’s 79,819. In a four-way contest in 2010, the victorious McCluskey won approximately 101,000 to Hicks’s 52,000, with 46,000 to Les Bayliss and 39,000 to Gail Cartmail.

This year’s election was noteworthy for the absence of a challenger from the Union’s right, which had been a strong force in the past – particularly in the Amicus union prior to its merger with the TGWU to form the present day Unite. Hicks was backed by the Socialist Workers’ Party both this year and in 2010; but his previous supporters in other factions, such as the Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal, opted for McCluskey this time round.

The contest has largely been seen as a referendum on McCluskey’s performance as general secretary over the past few years. The union has taken the perspective of a “critical friend” of the Labour party, with its leadership speaking out against the “siren voices” of Blairism that want the party to adopt an “austerity-lite” position. Unite has also reversed its decline in membership, announcing that its numbers rose by 50,000 during 2012.

Hicks, however, has argued throughout his campaign that the union should take a more critical stance towards Labour affiliation. His claims that McCluskey had failed to take a tough line on austerity were refuted by Unite activist Matt Willgress on these pages last month. Willgress wrote:

In reality, Unite’s message has been clear, saying “no to all cuts-don’t make workers pay for the crisis.” Indeed, even in the time since Hicks declared his candidature, Len McCluskey has been a leading signature in the call for the Coalition of Resistance initiated People’s Assembly Against Austerity in June!

United Left – the explicitly socialist current within the union which most organised left groups and individual left-wingers within Unite clearly belong to – has endorsed Len McCluskey for this reason.

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