by Dean Quick
Len McCluskey is being championed as the “left” candidate in the Unite general secretary election. Assuming that the label means something we have to think it means he’s the candidate that stands for greater equality, for challenging the unfairly powerful and undeservingly privileged and the person most committed to giving us a powerful trade union able to meet and match the worst a Tory government can throw at us.
But the truth is that McCluskey is none of these things. He’s the candidate of the status quo, of continued decline, of no change, of jobs for the boys and he’s armed with a backward looking programme because, in essence, he’s a candidate of the past and certainly not of the future.
McCluskey – unlike some of his chief lieutenants – has never been in the Communist Party or even aligned with one of its satellites, like the Straight Left faction that Jeremy Corbyn’s paladin Seumas Milne supported. But his approach to his job is fundamentally that of the “militant labourists” that formed the traditionalist internal opposition to the CP’s “Eurocommunist” leadership in the 1970s and 1980s.
That factional battle was at its height this time thirty years ago. But it would be a mistake to think that the issues involved collapsed with the Berlin Wall. For while the Communist Party was at heart a pathological organisation – how else can you think of a movement so tied into a history of defending dictatorship and murder – its influence was profound.
The “Euros” were influenced by the new left movement (itself born out of an earlier Communist fragmentation) of the 1960s and engaged with ideas like feminism and what they called “new social movements”. Above all it sought to build a broad coalition for social change through a cultural politics that encompassed much more than the traditional movement settings of the workplace meeting and the party committee.