The left-wing magazine Tribune was threatened with closure last night after the Prime Minister's favourite union leader served notice that he was suing it for libel.
Lawyers acting for Sir Ken Jackson, the joint general secretary of Amicus, said that they would start proceedings this week.
Senior figures at the 65-year-old magazine, which has counted George Orwell and Aneurin Bevan among its contributors, warned that it would close if it was forced to pay damages. "We haven't got any money, it is as simple as that. Tribune would fold," said one source.
Sir Ken, 65, is objecting to comments attributed to Derek Simpson, a left-wing Amicus official based in Derby, who is expected to challenge the joint general secretary for his post. Tribune reported that Mr Simpson had alleged that the union was "riddled with centralised corruption".
The magazine subsequently published an apology unreservedly withdrawing the allegation and dissociating the journal from any implication that Sir Ken would condone corruption. The journal accepted that any such suggestion was without foundation.
It also apologised to Mr Simpson for misrepresenting his remarks. The Derby-based official said yesterday that he never used the phrase attributed to him by Tribune.
However, Sir Ken insisted that the apology to Mr Simpson devalued the apology to him and that he was proceeding with legal action.
Mark Seddon, Tribune's editor, said: "Sir Ken is a reasonable man and I was hoping to settle this dispute privately."
Tribune insiders said the only way the magazine could survive if it were forced to pay damages would be by mounting the kind of financial appeal beloved of Private Eye.
Tribune celebrates its 65th birthday on Saturday. A birthday party is being held in Hampstead, north London, at the headquarters of the train drivers' union Aslef, where the paper has its office. Among directors of Tribune are the former Labour leader Michael Foot and representatives of the main unions affiliated to Labour, including Amicus.Reuse content