A hardline union chief seen as the mastermind of the British Airways’ strikes has been elected to head the Unite union.

Len McCluskey has become general secretary of Unite, the country’s largest trade union which has been involved in a lengthy dispute with BA over working conditions of cabin crew.

His election comes at a crucial time with fears of further walk-outs over Christmas after the union last week rejected the latest BA offer to try to end the dispute. 

McCluskey, who has held senior roles with Unite and the Transport and General Worker’s Union, received 101,000 votes – almost 50,000 more than his nearest rival.

The election turnout was 16% and the result is expected to be confirmed when the union’s executive meetings on Wednesday.

He is to take over from joint general secretaries Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson, who have led discussions with BA and have been in post since the union was formed in 2007.

“My first task now will be to bring our union together and unite it in a campaign against the devastation the Government is unleashing against working people and their communities throughout the land,” McCluskey reportedly said.