How the media attacked our movement

Submitted by AWL on 6 November, 2013 - 11:21

It’s been a busy week for media hacks who hate trade unionists. And what better opportunity for hacks to vent their spleen than the fallout from the Ineos dispute in Grangemouth?

The Sunday Times (27 October) led the way with lengthy articles about the contents of e-mails sent or received by former Unite Ineos convenor Stevie Deans.

A dossier of these e-mails had been “passed to police last week”. But subsequent press coverage suggested that the e-mails had also been passed on to half of Fleet Street. And the source of the “dossier” was Ineos itself — hardly a disinterested party in the matter.

The opening sentence in the Sunday Times front-page article had all the right buzzwords: “Ed Miliband is facing a crisis this weekend as a cache of bombshell e-mails expose a concerted union plot [emphasis added]”.

A few paragraphs into article, however, the “crisis” eased off to become mere “pressure” (“... Miliband is facing pressure ...”). And by the end of the article the crisis-cum-pressure turned out to be no more than a rent-a-quote from a Tory MP in Crawley called Smith.

Pages 10 and 11 carried a lengthy article about the e-mails, headlined with the lurid quote: “A Blueprint of How to Hijack a Constituency”

On closer inspection, however, the quote turned out to emanate from a “company insider” whose qualifications for making such a judgement remained as unknown as the insider’s name.

In terms of the e-mails’ contents and volume, there was certainly little or nothing in the article to give weight to the claim by the “company insider” that “Deans spent most of last summer organising his union’s infiltration of the Labour Party.”

The Sunday Times on 3 November continued its attacks on Unite, this time in the shape of three articles and an editorial focusing on the Labour Party report into allegations of vote-rigging by Unite in Falkirk.

“Revealed: Milband’s Dossier on Union Plot” read the headline over the front-page article, while a spread on pages 14/15 appeared under the headline “The Secret ‘Vote-Rigging’ Report Labour Suppressed”.

The headlines suggest that the newspaper had obtained a copy of the report. In fact, the paper had a Unite document (discovered in Stevie Deans’ “cache of bombshell e-mails”) which appears to be an early draft of the union’s response to the Labour Party report.

The Sunday Times articles re-quoted the various Labour Party allegations quoted in the Unite document. But it did not quote a single one of Unite’s responses to those allegations.

Such poor-quality one-sided “journalism” did at least display a fine sense of timing: Falkirk CLP was meeting the same day, and the Scottish press had been reporting that a motion of no-confidence in Stevie Deans as CLP chair would be proposed at the meeting.

(This was based on various anonymous statements by “a key figure in Falkirk CLP”, “another local party member”, and “sources at the local party”. Given that these articles had appeared several days before the CLP meeting, this hardly constituted “reporting” in the normal sense of the word.)

While the Sunday Times focused on a report which it had never even seen, the midweek issues of the Daily Mail focused on the terrors of a giant inflatable rat.

A “sinister unit” (Unite’s Organising and Leverage Department) sent “mobs of protestors” to the homes of Ineos directors as part of a “campaign of bullying and intimidation” intended to “humiliate executives and their families”.

“It was a mob, a threatening mob,” explained a Dunfermline-based Ineos director who described how “25 Unite members protested on his driveway with flags, banners and an inflatable rat. ... Children as young as seven who were playing on the street were coaxed into joining the mob.”

The article was accompanied by a grainy picture of the “threatening mob”. But there is no “threatening mob”. There are simply some Unite members standing around. They are not on the driveway. They are on the pavement. They are not threatening anyone. (In fact, not only was chanting banned on the protest, so too was smoking.)

There is certainly a giant inflatable rat in the picture. But it is hardly fearsome. As for children being “coaxed” into the joining the non-existent “mob”, if a giant inflatable rat suddenly appears at the bottom of your road, natural curiosity is going to attract the average seven-year-old to take a closer look.

In a follow-up article the Daily Mail reported that the previously unheard-of Jonathan Roberts had resigned from Unite “in disgust after the Daily Mail’s revelation about the union’s bullying tactics.”

Bang on cue, Roberts, who stood for Labour in the safe Tory seat on Thirsk and Malton in the last general election, attacked Unite for “picketing the family homes of company bosses and intimidating their children” and for generally failing to represent its members.

Of course, there had never been any evidence — not even in the lurid pages of the Sunday Times or the Daily Mail — that Unite members were “intimidating children”.

But what did facts count for when the sole concern of such newspapers was to whip up an anti-Unite hysteria on the back of the threat by a billionaire tax-exile to shut down Grangemouth unless his workforce, their union, and the Scottish and British governments gave him everything he wanted?

Not that there might be anything in Jim Ratcliffe’s behaviour, of course, which might merit closer investigation by the fearless journalists of the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail.

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