Len McCluskey slammed for wrongly claiming factory employing Unite workers had closed
Len McCluskey has been criticised after wrongly claiming that a Stoke factory employing hundreds of Unite workers has closed.
Leadership rival Gerard Coyne immediately seized on the comments, claiming that Mr McCluskey has become too focused on Labour party politics to concentrate on the union’s matters.
It is the latest salvo in an increasingly bitter contest between Mr Coyne and Mr McCluskey to be general secretary of Unite.
In an interview with BBC 5Live’s Pienaar’s Politics, Mr McCluskey was previewing the upcoming by-election in Stoke-on-Trent Central, triggered by the resignation of Labour MP Tristram Hunt, when he said: “Stoke is a great city, great people but they’ve been decimated in terms of the policies of this government and previous governments, whether it be Michelin Tyres closing, the steel industry, the ceramics industry.
“These are all industries that have slowly strangled this lovely city.”
In a statement put out by Mr Coyne’s campaign, Rob Taylor, the Unite convener at Stoke’s Michelin factory, said there were “no plans” to close down the plant.
“It came as a huge shock to hear Len McCluskey say on radio this morning that the Michelin Tyres factory in Stoke-on-Trent has closed,” he said.
“For the avoidance of doubt, I’d like to make it clear to Unite members, including the 800 people who work there, that there are no plans to close the factory.
“Michelin has invested over £30m in the site in recent years to modernise and expand the facility and we have repeatedly been assured by management that the company is committed to staying in Stoke.”
A spokeswoman for Mr McCluskey told PoliticsHome: "Len is aware that the Michelin plant is still in operation and he supports our members there.
"The fact remains that Unite members and working people in Stoke have suffered badly as industry has left their communities or companies have restructured, creating uncertainty for future jobs."
The two frontrunners for the top job at the UK’s biggest union have been trading accusations that the other is a puppet for different branches of the Labour party.
Mr McCluskey renewed his claim that Mr Coyne was representing elements of the party that are hostile to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
He said: “The election in Unite is about the leadership in Unite; it’s not about the leadership of the Labour party.
“Unfortunately my opponent, Gerard Coyne, has been captured, he’s become a puppet of the hard right of the Labour party who have no interest in Unite but want to have a proxy war, using Unite’s democracy to actually challenge Corbyn again.”