Unions should stand up and be counted

Submitted by Anon on 6 March, 2004 - 9:06

Katharine Gun makes no claim to be a leader or even a supporter of the labour movement. She makes no general public political statements. She was a junior employee of the government's GCHQ spy centre, so it is unlikely that she is any sort of left-winger.

But she took risks in order to make a stand for what she thought was right.
She passed on to the media information about the USA's dirty tricks when it was trying to get a UN Security Council majority for the Iraq war.

GCHQ sacked her. She was arrested and threatened with years in jail. She will have known that might happen.

Now she has been vindicated because the Government has dropped the charges against her.

Compare Britain's trade union leaders. Almost every big union has a member on Labour's National Executive. Almost every big union thought the Iraq war was wrong.

Every one of those union reps voted for the pro-war motion at Labour's National Executive. When the war came up a second time, every one of them agreed not to debate it again, but instead to move on to next business.

Why not make a stand for what they, and their unions, thought was right? Why not oppose the war? None of those trade union reps ran any risk of losing their job or serving years in jail if they made a stand.

Their only risk was that they would annoy the New Labour leadership, and make their relations with the Government a bit more difficult.

But that was enough to scare them all off. All of them decided to be "tactical" and go along with Blair.

Not a single union general secretary, not even one of those who frequently spoke on anti-war platforms, called their union's rep on Labour's Executive to account, or insisted that they vote against war when the issue came up again.

Despite the positive changes in recent years, the same servile spirit still infects our trade union leaderships. Do the main trade union leaders really have any confidence in Tony Blair as leader of the Labour Party? Not likely. Yet not a single one of them will openly condemn Blair.

When Labour's Executive expelled the railworkers' union RMT, it was the same story. Every single union rep present supported the expulsion. (The Communication Workers' Union has condemned the expulsion, but its rep was absent.)

Of course those union reps knew that if the RMT had "broken the rules", then the New Labour leadership had "broken" many more things, refusing to renationalise the railways, part-privatising the Tube, keeping the Tories' anti-union laws. They also knew that the rules that the RMT had broken had been fudged and bent many times before.

Yet not one of them would speak up for what they thought was right. The risk of Government disfavour brought them into line where the risk of sacking and years in jail had not deterred Katharine Gun.

The same spirit dominates the union leaders' conduct in industrial as well as political battles.

We need more union leaders with the same spirit as Katharine Gun. And those who have the servile spirit? Maybe they could retrain as translators for the government's security services.

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