Len McCluskey urges unions to use ‘leverage’ against P&O after layoffs

(Hollie Adams/PA)

Unions must make P&O Ferries a ‘toxic brand’ after the company laid off hundreds of workers, to demonstrate to the company that its ‘shameful behaviour’ will hurt profits, says the former leader of the biggest union from the United Kingdom.

Len McCluskey, who served as general secretary of Unite for 10 years, said that under his leadership the union had sought to use “leverage” against companies that treated workers poorly.

He claimed the UK government would not act against P&O and said unions needed to address the situation to prevent other companies from behaving in the same way.

The truth is that the government will not intervene and so, as usual, it is in the power of ordinary working people

Len McCluskey

Mr McCluskey, speaking to PA Scotland, said: ‘There is no doubt that the Government should step in and make it clear that they are not prepared to tolerate this and there will be consequences.

“The truth is that the government will not intervene and so, as usual, it is in the hands of ordinary working people.”

Speaking in Glasgow ahead of an event to promote his autobiography, Always Red, the former union boss said ‘developing leverage, as we have developed in Unite, is essential for all unions “.

P&O chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite has previously admitted to MPs that there was ‘absolutely no doubt that the ferry operator was required to consult with unions over the dismissal of 800 workers, but the company is not did not because “no union could accept it”.

Peter Hebblethwaite (House of Commons/AP) (PA Wire)

Peter Hebblethwaite (House of Commons/AP) (PA Wire)

Mr McCluskey said: ‘At this time P&O knows they broke the law and they will be fined, they will have to pay money, they will have to compensate the workforce artwork. But they shrugged their shoulders and said “we’re fine, we don’t mind”.

“So the unions have to demonstrate that they are capable of inflicting more damage on a company if these decisions are made, so the consequences make companies like P&O think ‘maybe we shouldn’t do this, maybe be that there is another way”.

“In my book, I make it clear that developing leverage, as we developed in Unite, is essential for all unions.

“We would look at what leverage could be inflicted on P&O, its customers, its customers, its shareholders, so that shareholders also understand that it is not as simple as laying off 800 people and giving them compensation. This is what must happen.

When asked if that actually meant making P&O a “toxic brand”, Mr. McCluskey replied: “Absolutely. And showing them their toxic brand will effectively cause them to lose enough money to make it impossible for them to make the profit they want.

He claimed that employers “will try to get away with anything they think will improve their profitability, whether it’s P&O’s disgraceful behavior or the firing and rehiring tactics that have suddenly emerged”.

Mr McCluskey, a left winger known as Red Len, resigned from his role with Unite in August, with his autobiography – which was also described as a ‘manifesto for the future of unionism’ – published the following month .

Speaking about the situation with P&O, the former union boss said that while the RMT was “the main union involved in the P&O crisis”, other unions were “watching” and “giving as much support as possible because it needs to be defeated”.

Mr McCluskey will appear in conversation with Roz Foyer, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, at an event in Glasgow on Tuesday evening.