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.

Get your motions in for Unite Policy Conference 2018

Unite will be holding its next Policy Conference in Brighton 2-6 July 2018. This is the opportunity for every member to shape our union’s policy. The process is already under way, with branches and committees sending in motions for the conference agenda. If you want to get a motion onto the agenda, you need to act now. Motions have to be agreed by a branch or committee and sent in to Unite HQ no later than 9 February 2018.

Delegates at Unite Policy conference 2016
Photo: @bluegreen_cathy on Twitter

Step one is to draft your motion. There are full guidelines here. If you’ve never done it before, don’t be put off, but do ask for help if you need it.

Each branch and each constitutional committee (i.e. Regional & National Industrial Sector Committee; Regional & National Equality Committee, Regional Committee, Area Activist Committee) can submit one motion on any general policy topic (i.e. not about a particular sector and not requiring a change to Unite’s rules). The National Retired Members’ Committee and each Regional Retired Members’ Co-ordinating Committees can also submit one motion each, but these can only be on about matters solely pertaining to members in retirement.

The meetings held round the country before Unite Rank & File launched came up with lots of ideas, including areas where we can campaign to improve union policy. Note that there’s no need to submit motions to restate existing policy – motions should change existing policy or add to it.

Here are some suggestions to get you thinking – feel free to comment with your own ideas or what you’ve already submitted:

Organising / industrial action:

  • Disputes unit support, focused on winning, not just legal compliance, for all disputes from an early stage
  • Improve support for company and sub-sector combines
  • Increasing lay member involvement in organising
  • Response to the Trade Union Act 2016
  • Review / overhaul Unite education in the light of government funding cuts
  • Facility for levies (e.g. for strike funds) by workplace / employer, not just branch – for many members branch doesn’t directly match employer / workplace
  • Recruitment and organising of migrant workers and refugees

Democracy / accountability:

  • Review of Unite structures to better support members in multi-region employers
  • Investigate the role of union officials in blacklisting, and support the Blacklist Support Group
  • Policy against officers approaching employers over the heads of reps / branch officers
  • Tackle non-functioning branches so members aren’t left without a functioning branch for long periods
  • Improve Unite grievance and complaint procedures
  • Change General Secretary elections to Single Transferable Vote
  • Ban branches passing member data to campaigns or third parties during Unite elections
  • Ban Unite employees (other than candidates) from campaigning in Unite elections
  • Official videoed hustings for Unite elections
  • Limit the General Secretary’s wage
  • Facilitation and control of communication with members during union elections
  • Require disclosure / control over fundraising and expenditure during union elections

Equality:

  • Put equality on the agenda of all branch and constitutional committee meetings
  • Make regional women’s and equality officer roles full time (or job share)
  • Review equality structures to ensure they are effective in representing each equality group, championing its issues, and promoting participation
  • Extend the recommendations from the report on women officers in Unite to all employees
  • Improve equality training for lay and full-time officers, reps and members
  • Including impact on members without UK citizenship and members working overseas in materials about impact of Brexit on workers’ rights
  • Workers’ rights to live and work where they want
  • Trans rights and Gender Recognition

Miscellaneous:

  • Cuts and privatisation
  • Councils implementing cuts
  • Diversification from destructive projects to good, socially useful, jobs
  • Trump visiting the UK
  • Housing after Grenfell
  • Automation and Artificial Intelligence
  • Brexit
  • Labour Party
  • Universal Credit