Scottish Labour - why did GMB abstain?

Submitted by martin on 23 September, 2020 - 8:05 Author: Dale Street
GMB Scotland

On the eve of the 12 September 2020 meeting of the Scottish Labour Party Executive Committee, Gary Smith, Regional Secretary of the GMB union, announced that the GMB would be abstaining on the motion of ‘no confidence’ in leader Richard Leonard.

“Richard Leonard’s Own Union Refuses To Back Him Ahead of Leadership Vote,” read the headlines in the Scottish press.

According to Smith: “At a time like this, our members would not thank us for getting bogged down in an internal Scottish Labour party issue, a party for which many of them no longer vote for.”

“Bogged down”? But all the two GMB representatives on the Executive Committee – an unelected full-timer and a lay member – had to do was log into Zoom (which they did anyway) and click on the ‘Raise Hand’ function if it had come to a vote (in the event, the ‘no confidence’ motion was withdrawn).

And it’s not as if it was a complicated issue. So many signatories to the ‘no confidence’ motion had no mandate to have put their names to it that – if a mandate had been a requirement – the motion would never have even made it onto the agenda.

Smith himself knows this. In his comments to the media he said: “A lot of these people are not mandated by their organisations to vote in this way. That exposes how this is motivated by faction and that it is an entirely factional move.”

But the GMB response to this undemocratic and factional move? To abstain – and thereby give the factionalists a free hand to undermine democracy (in fact, one of the GMB delegates attending the Executive Committee meeting went a step further: he spoke in favour of the motion).

An internal Scottish Labour Party issue? But the GMB is affiliated to the party. That’s why it has representatives on the Executive Committee. There is not some kind of Chinese Wall between the GMB and Scottish Labour (although Smith is certainly trying to build one).

And Smith’s line of ‘members wouldn’t thank us for getting bogged down in this internal affair’ is in stark contrast to his conduct in the deputy leadership contest held just six months ago.

Smith was only too happy for the GMB to get “bogged down” in that internal affair and nominate ultra-right-winger Jackie Baillie – a decision reportedly taken (more accurately: rubber-stamped) by just three GMB members – and then ‘campaign’, after a fasion, for members to vote for her, rather than the trade union activist Matt Kerr.

Unlike Jackie Baillie, Matt Kerr backed the Glasgow City Council equal pay strikers in 2018, many of whom were GMB members. Unlike Jackie Baillie, Matt Kerr did not support collaboration with the Tories in the ‘Better Together’ campaign of 2014 – which is what drove so many GMB members to stop voting Labour.

Many GMB members [in Scotland] no longer vote Labour? That’s true. But one reason for that is Smith’s relentless campaign over the past three years against the party in general and Richard Leonard in particular.

(See "Mock-workerism and Scottish Labour" and "Blaming Labour's defeat on opposition to fracking".)

Most GMB members also no longer, so to speak, ‘vote GMB’ either. In the last-but-one General Secretary election turnout was just 4.4%. And the lack of engagement by GMB members in their own union can be linked to the decision to abstain on the ‘no confidence’ vote in Richard Leonard.

As confirmed by the recent report by Karon Monaghan QC on the GMB’s internal workings, GMB Regional Secretaries wield power largely through bullying, threats and victimisation, and use that power to manipulate and bully lay members, from branch level up to and including the Central Executive Council.

The lay-member structures, on the other hand, lack real power.

Regional Councils meet only once every six months(!). The smaller Regional Committees which they elect meet more frequently. But the Councils and Committees “have very little real authority, if any. It is the Regional Secretaries who hold the real power, along with the General Secretary.”

A union which is even more gutted of internal democracy than the average union is one in which there is inevitably a low turnout in elections (especially as the rules are rigged to block rank-and-file candidates) and one in which the lay bodies serve as little more than a front for decisions by the union bureaucracy.

Could this be why a meeting of the Scottish Regional Committee, attended by the Scottish Regional Secretary, took (or rubber-stamped) a decision to abstain on the ‘no confidence’ motion?

Because, never mind the GMB affiliated Labour Party members or the GMB branch delegates to CLPs, that it what the Regional Secretary wanted?

The disgraceful decision to abstain on a factional manoeuvre by people with no mandate is a microcosm of the toxic culture which has poisoned the GMB for years.

Only the members themselves can change that culture – not the queue of self-proclaimed saviours who, having gone along with that culture for years, are now emerging from the shadows to lead us to the Promised Land:

"Too long have the workers of the world waited for some Moses to lead them out of bondage. I would not lead you out if I could; for if you could be led out, you could be led back again. I would have you make up your own minds: there is nothing that you cannot do for yourselves." (Eugene V Debs)

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