Helping Len rewrite his history

Submitted by AWL on 5 October, 2021 - 11:43 Author: Jim Denham
Len McCluskey

The autobiography of Unite union leader Len McCluskey, Always Red, sounds pretty good — if you believe the Morning Star. The paper calls it “an incisive political memoir with lessons for the entire left.”

If so, then Always Red must be a considerable improvement upon Len’s previous literary effort, the banal and self-regarding Why You Should Be A Trade Unionist, published in 2020 but written before the 2019 election (Len’s explanation for this strange timing being that the book “never was intended to be a political rallying cry”). Mind you, the Morning Star’s editor Ben Chacko reckons Always Red is “written in the same engaging style as [the] earlier book”, so we have been warned.

Chacko’s review of the book (27 September) turns out to be an almost hagiographic paean to Len the man (“witty... can be hilarious”), Len the thinker (“there is serious strategic thinking in these techniques about how unions can win”) and Len the far-sighted sage who, it seems almost single-handedly ushered in the Corbyn era by backing one member one vote in the Labour Party in 2014. In fact, such was Len’s visionary foresight then that he eclipsed even the Morning Star itself: with a note of humble self-criticism, Chacko notes that “many other union leaders were baffled by Unite’s support for the change — frankly, so was theMorning Star — but developments were to show how right it was.”

But there is a note of bitterness that cannot be avoided: “McCluskey’s account of the 2017-19 period is dispiriting”, caused entirely, it seems by Labour’s “reneging on the promise to respect the EU referendum”, a view that means Len “is in agreement with the analysis consistently made by this newspaper.” A particularly culpable example of the “infestation” of “Remainitis” that Len points to is Emily Thornberry having the effrontery to wear a blue dress and a gold star necklace “in an effort to look like a walking EU flag.” The one criticism of the otherwise saintly Jeremy Corbyn is for “failing to give the clear lead that might have stopped the rot” (i.e. doing what Len specialised in: ignoring the wishes of the members).

Strangely, if we turn to Len’s earlier page-turner Why You Should Be A Trade Unionist, we find him in full support of Labour’s 2019 position and, indeed, claiming that Brexit doesn’t really matter very much: “I have always supported Labour’s approach to bringing the country together by trying to speak to all of it, not just half of it, while dismissing the other half, as the other main parties have done. But even as I write about Leave and Remain, I reject these labels. In or out of the EU, it is the class questions that matter.”

Still, the Morning Star is hardly going to criticise someone for re-writing their own history, given the record of the political current (Stalinism) the paper represents.

And, of course, Chacko and his paper owe a huge debt of gratitude to Len and Unite: when Gorbachev cancelled the USSR’s bulk order (12,000 copies a day) in 1990 , the paper was saved by the leaders of several British trade unions pumping money in. In recent years Unite has effectively replaced the USSR in ensuring the paper’s survival via bulk via bulk orders, generous payments for advertising and subsidised special editions for union conferences, the TUC, Tolpuddle, the Durham Miners’ gala, etc.

Whether this cosy relationship continues under Len’s successor Sharon Graham remains to be seen — but the Morning Star has already carried a number of articles in praise of her, most of which avoid mention of the embarrassing fact that the paper did not support her in the Unite general secretary election. But history is once again being re-written, and the sucking-up continues.

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