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Unite’s General Secretary Len McCluskey is understood to have cut the union’s affiliation money to the Labour Party by about 10 percent. It came amid soaring tensions between the left-wing union and the party’s new leader, Sir Keir Starmer. Sir Keir’s ten campaign pledges include policies similar to his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, such as higher tax on the wealthy, the abolition of tuition fees, the “common ownership” of rail, mail, energy and water, and ending NHS outsourcing.
However, there is understood to be anger in the union about Labour’s direction under Sir Keir.
One source told BBC Newsnight that Sir Keir and his inner team were “just not listening”.
Mr McCluskey was a close ally of Mr Corbyn and enjoyed renewed support and popularity under his leadership.
Having grown up in a working class area of Liverpool and working on the docks, Mr McCluskey got involved in trade unionism in the late Sixties and early Seventies.
He gradually rose through the ranks and in 1990 was elected as the National Secretary of the T&GWU General Workers group.
Trade unions were and are, in Mr McCluskey’s eyes, the bedrock of the Labour Party and integral to the movement’s identity – a point in which he hammered home during his Oxford Union address earlier this year.
Talking through the history of the trade union movement, he explained: “It was the Chartist movement in the 1840s that laid the foundations of our modern Labour movement today.
“With their charter of six electoral reforms aimed at extending the franchise and enabling working men – women had to wait a little longer – to be elected to Parliament.
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“This led directly to protests of improving working conditions such as restricting the working hours of women and young children in the textile industry to ten hours a day.
“That campaign victory galvanised the unions into further organisation, and in 1868 the trade union congress was formed and in 1871 trade unions became legal.
“It was this increasing strength and confidence of the trade unions towards the end of the 19th century, along with a series of events, that convinced them that the Liberal Party would never speak for working people.
“And that led to the establishment of the Labour Party – to give workers a voice in Parliament and to pass legislation to improve workers lives.
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“You’ll hear arguments of people saying ‘why are trade unions involved in the Labour Party’ – we created the party of Labour.”
Mr McCluskey’s most recent falling out with Labour under Sir Keir comes after the new leader paid substantial damages to seven former party workers turned whistleblowers over antisemitism who appeared in a BBC Panorama documentary.
They sued after the party suggested they had acted in bad faith.
Mr McCluskey called the settlement a “huge miscalculation”.
Ahead of the meeting of Unite’s executive, the General Secretary told Newsnight another cut in funding might happen should the party’s course change too drastically under Sir Keir.
He said: “I have no doubt if things start to move in different directions and ordinary working people start saying, ‘well, I’m not sure what Labour stands for’, then my activists will ask me, ‘why are we giving so much money’?”
Unite is Labour’s single biggest donor.
The union has given the party more than £7million since the start of 2019 according to Electoral Commission records.
Mr McCluskey has repeatedly denied many of the allegations of antisemitism within the party under Mr Corbyn.
He told The Observer in August: “There were lots of claims and criticisms that the Labour party was institutionally antisemitic. I absolutely reject that.”
He has pointed to a leaked report drawn up at the end of Mr Corbyn’s leadership that alleges some staff opposed the left-wing leader during the 2017 general election and took money away from his team’s control.
Although Unite has become synonymous with Labour, Mr McCluskey warned: “It would be a mistake if anybody took Unite for granted.
“I think that would be a mistake.”
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