Defend Free Speech on Palestine

Unite has good policy on Palestine, including support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). It was a setback to see the Unite delegates going along with (and Len McCluskey welcoming) the the Labour NEC statement:

“We recommend that we adopt the IHRA in full with all examples. This does not in any way undermine the freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians. We re-invite the organisations to re-engage in consultation on the Code of Conduct.”

The IHRA definition and its examples are intended to undermine freedom of expression on Israel and the rights of Palestinians by smearing the movement in support of Palestinians, and in particular the BDS movement, as antisemitic (more information here and here).

Nelson Mandela quote "We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians"
Image: Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Hundreds of Unite activists had signed an open letter opposing the adoption of the most problematic IHRA examples in just three weeks. Those, like Len McCluskey, who argued that Labour should adopt the IHRA examples were wrong for two reasons. They were wrong to imagine that this would curtail the smears against the Labour leadership and all those who support the Palestinian cause; and they were wrong to think such an opportunistic approach justifies supporting a tool that is being used to strengthen these smears. This can only do long-term damage to the fight against the oppression of Palestinians. Giving in to bullies doesn’t work. Rather than giving in to those who want to silence criticism of Israel, we must speak out in defence of Palestinians and of free speech on the oppression they are resisting.

We encourage:

  1. Activists to sign and circulate a new statement being used across all trade unions: https://goo.gl/forms/vKVaHdnDi4jdVId12
  2. Unite branches to send motions in through their Areas and Regions, to the Executive Council, demanding that our union stands firm in support of Palestinian freedom and does not give an inch to those who would claim that doing so is antisemitic. A model motion you can adapt is below.
  3. Those in the Unite delegation to Labour Party conference to argue for the delegation to oppose adoption of the problematic IHRA examples

Model motion: Free Speech on Palestine

… branch is proud of Unite’s strong stance in support of the Palestinian struggle, including the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

Within the movement in support of Palestine there is a wide range of legitimate views held by Jews and non-Jews, including:

  • That the foundation of a state based on the exclusion of much of the existing population on grounds of race or religion is a racist endeavour
  • That Israel is a colonial settler state founded on the oppression and exclusion of the majority of the existing population, and that no people has the right to “self determination” on this basis, no matter how appalling their own suffering
  • That a state which allows Jews who have never lived there a “right of return” but does not extend the same right to non-Jewish Palestinian residents who were expelled or left is inherently racist
  • That Israel’s systematically discriminatory policies, including its recently passed “nation state” law make it an “apartheid state” and its claims to be a democratic nation empty
  • That aspects of the behaviour of the Israeli state are comparable with aspects of Nazi policy, particularly in the earlier years of Nazi rule
  • That it is legitimate to focus solidarity on oppressed people who resist, even if others are suffering just as much

While not everybody holds these views, and this branch acknowledges that all these views can be held by racists, or can be expressed in racist, insensitive or unhelpful ways, these views are not in themselves racist or antisemitic.

This branch believes that there is a consistent attempt to unjustly smear supporters of Palestine as antisemitic in order to weaken the movement for Palestinian freedom. This branch notes that the IHRA working definition of antisemitism and examples have already been used (e.g. by Barnet Council and University of Central Lancashire) to falsely claim that legitimate views or debate on Palestine and Israel are antisemitic.

This branch resolves to oppose any definition of antisemitism which suggests that legitimate views or debate on Palestine and Israel are antisemitic, which not only undermines the fight for Palestinian freedom, but undermines the fight against genuine antisemitism.

This branch resolves to send this motion to the Executive Council via the Regional Committee and/or Area Activists Committee as required.

Union officer collusion in blacklisting construction members

Blacklisted

Though Unite has been playing an increasingly positive role in challenging blacklisting, particularly in construction, more progress is needed to investigate the allegations that union officers colluded to put members on the blacklist and root out any responsible.

BlacklistedThe problem of employers blacklisting workers who organise or who speak up about issues, including Health & Safety, has been growing in prominence for a number of years, thanks in particular to the work of the Blacklist Support Group (Facebook, blog).

Despite the exposure of one blacklist of several thousand workers, run by the Consulting Association, which mainly targeted electricians, nobody believes the practice has ended.

In recent years Unite has been playing an increasingly positive role in challenging the blacklist. The union has been more supportive and cooperative with the Blacklist Support Group. At present the union is taking action in the High Court against both key individuals involved in blacklisting, and some of the big companies that used the blacklist. Compensation isn’t enough for justice – the struggle continues to bring the practice into the open and stop it.

Blacklisting workers, so they can’t get employment, is a crime and a human rights abuse that ruins lives, breaks up families, and has led to suicides.

The Metropolitan Police has admitted that police officers are likely to have passed personal information to a covert blacklisting operation, and that police throughout the UK had contact with organisations including the Economic League, a previous major blacklister. It has also been confirmed that undercover police infiltrated unions to gather information.

But one issue that simply hasn’t been adequately addressed is the allegations that some union (Unite and former UCATT) officers colluded with employers to blacklist members.

In 2016 the Blacklist Support Group, the national Construction Rank And File, and a number of construction activists published an open letter which included:

“It is now in the public domain that officials in both unions were recorded as the source of information on Economic League and Consulting Association blacklist files. Some of those named, remain senior officials in UNITE and UCATT to this day. Every union activist in construction knows who the named officials are, as does every major employer.”

“We the undersigned call upon the new UNITE construction section to engage an independent legal expert to carry out a thorough investigation of the allegations relating to union collusion in blacklisting, with a remit drawn up in conjunction with the blacklisted workers. If the implicated officials are completely innocent, then this is their opportunity to clear their name once and for all. But if the independent investigation concludes that there is a case to answer, then the union should take the appropriate disciplinary action. We are not looking for a witch-hunt, we simply want answers into possible union collusion in order to avoid repeating mistakes of the past.”

During the recent General Secretary election, Len McCluskey was among those who backed the call for an inquiry, though he claimed that “While new evidence has unfolded in the High Court proceedings it is not the case that this evidence points towards present or previous union officials”. This is an extraordinary claim, given that a number of members’ Consulting Association files blacklisting members name union officers as the source of information about them. Some of these officers are named in the carefully researched book “Blacklisted: The Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists”.

In August 2017 Len McCluskey announced that he had appointed a barrister “to examine allegations that union officials colluded with a covert blacklisting operation financed by major firms to prevent certain workers from being employed” by scrutinising “documents that were disclosed in a high court lawsuit that led to construction firms apologising and paying compensation amounting to around £75m to 771 blacklisted workers.”

The remit of the inquiry was a worry. It wasn’t drawn up in conjunction with blacklisted workers and doesn’t seem to involve talking to the members who believe they have evidence of officer collusion.

Since then, things have gone awfully quiet. Members don’t even know which barrister is conducting the inquiry, and haven’t been asked for input.

Brian Higgins is one of the blacklisted workers who signed the open letter and whose blacklist file names two union officers as sources of information, one of whom is still serving. This does not prove that the officers knew how the information they provided about members would be used, but as the Blacklisted book puts it “The blacklist was an open secret in the building industry”. Brian has been repeatedly writing to chase progress on the inquiry. The following are extracts from that correspondence:

Len McCluskey to Brian Higgins, 23 November 2017:

“The barrister we are using has been advised to produce a report for me which will remain confidential whilst litigation is proceeding.  I will, of course, share the outcome of that report with the Executive members from Construction, including Roy, as well as the Construction NISC at the appropriate time and any actions that are needed will be taken.”

Len McCluskey to Brian Higgins, 6 December 2017:

“I have responded to the calls for us to consider all documents that have been disclosed in the High Court litigation to see if there is any evidence of officer collusion in Blacklisting.  As such I have given instructions that a Counsel from Doughty Street Chambers be instructed to review all of the disclosure documents from the litigation and this will look at the specific issue as to whether there is any evidence of officer collusion.”

Len McCluskey said he is not aware of evidence regarding the serving officer Brian named, and asks to be sent any evidence to forward to the barrister.

if there is any evidence of any officer of Unite being involved in blacklisting then I will not hesitate to take action

8 December 2017 Brian Higgins sends Len McCluskey copies of pages from his Consulting Association blacklisting file which name officers (including one still serving) as having provided information.

11 December 2017 Len McCluskey replies:

“I will pass this information over to the Counsel who is preparing the report that I have continually referred to and I will await that report before taking any action in line with the commitment I have given to the Executive Council and to the NISC”

This is very different from the promise of taking action without hesitation made before Brian sent the evidence.

Brian Higgins to Len McCluskey 30 May 2018:

“Nearly ten months have passed since this fanfare of publicity and you appointed an anonymous counsel to conduct this inquiry. Yet as far as I’m aware not one blacklisted union member has been contacted by anyone from Doughty Chambers and you have never sent out one letter by post or email updating us on whatever stage your inquiry has reached. Neither has there been any mention of your inquiry into union collusion in any of the union’s general publications for members in general or the one for construction members in particular.”

It’s well past time that the inquiry into officer collusion got some more impetus, actively seeking evidence from the members involved, and explaining to members what the process will be. And if Len McCluskey intends to take no action, even when evidence is supplied, until after the barrister’s report is made after the end of litigation, he needs to explain that rather than claiming he won’t hesitate to take action.

Many activists believe they are still being represented by officers who knowing colluded with employers to prevent members getting employment on the basis of their union activity. Brian and some others believe “there is a cover up going on”. Brian says he “was extremely upset and deeply offended and almost physically sick” when an officer was “promoted … in spite of senior construction officials knowing he was named in my file when this promotion took place”. Whether the evidence proves these beliefs to be true or not, a situation where members believe their evidence is not being acted upon is untenable and unsustainable.

There’s great potential for membership growth in construction. Cleaning out the shameful problems of the past can only help. Failing to do so would make the prospects of democratic site organisation in construction bleak.

Reject the NHS pay deal and push for strike action

The ballot for the NHS pay deal opens on the 30th April. Unite Health Rep Mark Boothroyd (personal capacity) explains why this is a crucial opportunity for Unite members to reject the government’s offer and start a fight for the pay rise they need and deserve.

Health worker with clipboard

The pay deal is the outcome of negotiations between all 14 NHS unions and the government. The majority of the unions claim it is “the best that can be achieved without strike action” in the words of the negotiators. The GMB union disagrees and is recommending rejection. It is right to do so. UNITE members must reject the deal and push Unite and all other NHS unions to take industrial action if necessary to secure an above inflation pay rise. Remember the Government originally wanted to take one day’s holiday off NHS staff and the public outcry forced them to retreat. They can be beaten with a campaign. And we haven’t even started campaigning yet.

The proposed deal offers staff a total of 6.5% rise over three years: 3% in the first year, 1.7% in the second year and 1.67% in the third year. Those at the bottom of their band will get a larger raise as the bottom of pay bands are raised slightly, and band 1 will be abolished and the Living Wage brought in to the NHS.

This will be a boost for the lowest paid bands, but many of the workers who should benefit are in services that have been privatised, so will not benefit at all, as the pay rise as only applies to NHS contracted staff.

Inflation is predicted to be 6-8% over the next three years, so in reality the offer would mean a below inflation pay “rise” for most staff – a pay cut in real terms. It’s less than we deserve and less than we need to keep pace with the rising cost of living. It won’t stop the haemorrhaging of skilled staff from the overworked and unstaffed hospitals, and won’t attract more people to work in a service being dragged down by austerity and privatisation.

To accept this offer is to throw away a historic opportunity to challenge the government over their handling of the NHS. For once all the NHS unions are working together, negotiating together and there is a great opportunity for coordinated strike action against the government. If this is the best deal 14 unions could achieve just through negotiation, imagine how much more we could get with the threat of strike action by all the unions.

All unions are balloting on the offer at the same time, so its a great opportunity to coordinate campaigns with other union activists in your hospital or community services.

The government is in an extremely weak position, beset by scandal and failing brexit negotiations. If we apply pressure through the threat of strike action, we can force them to give us what we need: a large above inflation pay rise to address the 10-14% pay we have lost to inflation in the last decade.

If we accept this deal, we take the pressure off the government for another three years, and we lock ourselves into a below inflation pay rise, right before Brexit crashes the economy and sends living costs soaring.

Unite Health is recommending this deal to members. This is a mistake, and the decision was based on the belief that our members would not be willing to challenge the government over this miserable pay deal. We need to organise to prove them wrong, contact Unite Rank and File to help coordinate opposition to the pay offer, and organise to save the NHS from the rotten Tory government.

More links on the NHS pay offer: