Former Unite general secretary Len McCluskey addressed conference today, October 20. In his final speech he particularly thanked Tony Woodhouse, Unite EC chair and his successor, general secretary Sharon Graham. “This is the end of a journey for me,” he said. “Fifty-two years ago on these very Liverpool docks, I was first elected as a shop steward to represent the people I worked with.
“Indeed, the whole point of our union, our movement, is that you never walk alone. All of you are a thread in a tapestry woven by hundreds of thousands of working men and women.”
‘Where angels fear to tread’
McCluskey paid tribute to many Unite colleagues, staff, and officers. With a special reference to Unite organisers he said, “Our organisers are a special breed, venturing to go where angels fear to tread.”
He said to the conference delegates, “You are the union, the people who every day take on the often difficult and thankless task of representing our members. And you make me very proud.
“The diversity of Unite often takes my breath away – there’s not a job that doesn’t have a Unite member or a town or city in our nations that doesn’t have a Unite presence.”
‘A force of nature’
McCluskey wished his successor Sharon Graham all the best, as she leads Unite to future success. He said, “And what about Sharon Graham – an integral part of my senior team for over a decade. A force of nature who’s energy defies logic. And I wish her all the luck in the world as she carries all of us forward. She deserves your support and I know you will give it to her.”
And he had only praise and admiration for chair Tony Woodhouse. He said, “There’s one man who has walked this journey with me, every step of the way from these docks – Tony Woodhouse, our fantastic Chair.
“Tony was a young HGV driver when we first became kindred spirits on the Dock road and he has continued to display the same passion and solidarity ever since.
‘Finest trade unionist’
He gets embarrassed when I say he’s the finest trade unionist I’ve ever met. But although I have had the privilege of meeting many great trade unionists, here in this hall and around the world, nobody embodies the essence of trade unionism like him. I’m so lucky to call him my friend and my brother.”
On his retirement, Len said, “There is a saying in football – “I have taken the club as far as I can”. That’s how I feel today. I have taken Unite as far as I can. And I’m confident that Sharon will take it to the next level.”
Organising – ‘at the heart of our work’
On organising he said, “We have put organising at the heart of our work, and invested more in it than any other trade union.
“Leverage has been deployed for the first time in British industrial relations – a new tool which has delivered wins for our members time and again and has out-foxed and wrong-footed employers to their dismay.
“And I’m sure, given Sharon’s leadership, both organising and leverage will be used with still greater effect to build a stronger fighting back Unite in the years ahead.”
In closing his speech he said that, “To have served this movement and this union, has been the greatest honour of my life. I would not for one second have followed a different path in life. Together we have built something to be proud of.
“Drifting back all those years, as a young lad I remember reading a pamphlet called A world to win by my hero Jack Jones. In it, Jack invoked a future where bigotry, hatred and prejudice were no more. And where the common good of humanity had triumphed. It lit a flame in my heart that still burns brightly today and I will go on fighting for that better world and I know you will, with all the commitment you have always shown.
“Conference, it was Shakespeare who said, ‘The world is but a stage and we are the players there on.’ And so my friends it’s time for me to take my final bow – and may the power of Unite always be with you.”
By Amanda Campbell, Pic by Mark Thomas