We have in the past year published 3 articles 1 2 3 which have focussed on the increasingly successful attempts of a tiny group of what have been termed Political Freemasons, Socialist Action, to take over the political and administrative machinery of PSC.
Why have we published these concerns? Not because we want a sectarian bunfight. Far from it. But because we know that if a small and tiny unrepresentative group like SA controls PSC, then the policy and tactics of PSC will be dominated not by the concerns and needs of the Palestinians but the ambitions and tactics of the gurus of Socialist Action. The same gurus who surrounded Ken Livingstone with their placemen such as Redmond O’Neill (Venezuelan Solidarity Campaign, John Ross (gone to new pastures entirely) and Jude Woodward (gone goodness knows where!).
Indeed all the evidence suggests that it is a goal of Socialist Action to effectively take-over the functioning of a number of solidarity campaigns as part of their longer-term political goals.
The majority political group that now controls PSC Executive, if ‘political’ be the right term, all originate from the split in the International Marxist Group in 1985. The IMG split into basically three fragments. One, Socialist International (Outlook/Resistance led by Alan Thornett) became the inheritor of the 4th International mantle. Another, led by Brian Grogan ‘the Castroites’ called itself the Communist League. It was a group that effectively abandoned the concept of class. National liberation struggles where all classes participate equally (but the richest benefit most!) were the aim. It is this which explains the silence over the collaboration with Israel and the CIA by the Palestinian authority. This group is believed to have contained Trade Union Officer, Bernard and Carole Regan and General Secretary Betty Hunter. The third group is the most corrupt of all. Socialist Action was the largest fragment that resulted from the split. Led by John Ross, it submerged into the Labour Party and effectively provided Ken Livingstone’s political cabinet.
Today Socialist Action produces neither a political newspaper nor does it have any kind of web presence. It is, in the words of one attendee at the Birmingham meeting (below), a group of Political Freemasons, friends who originate in a political group whose sole purpose now is to provide for each other.
On August 8th after consultations and discussions between a number of different people, whose politics are not homogenous, a meeting was held in Birmingham at very short notice. One result was the apologies for the meeting almost outnumbered the attendees. But the resultant discussion was entirely constructive. A joint letter was produced to which 13 people added their names, including two of the original founders of PSC.
The signatories agreed that the letter would remain private within PSC and thus I will not be publishing it. It was sent to the Executive of PSC in order that it could begin a process of discussion and debate which would lead to a transformation in PSC and an awakening of the membership. Politics and strategy should be something that all the membership should discuss and not be left to a caucus within PSC’s Executive. PSC should decide its strategy not an external group who have their own fish to fry.
But more than anything else Palestine Solidarity Campaign has to reconnect with the movement. Under the current leadership, PSC has gained a reputation for being extremely sectarian to other groups on the left or in the wider solidarity movement. It has for example carved out the SWP, whose Stop the War Coalition boosted indeed built the massive Gaza demonstrations in January, from the Executive whilst at the same time reaching out to the Stalinists of the Morning Star group. People whose political lineage is that of support for the Israeli state (the Soviet Union under Stalin, in May 1948, became the first country to recognise the Israeli State as it perpetrated its massacres and expulsions).
PSC Executive has continually proved to be resistant, indeed hostile, to those seeking to go beyond routine and formal actions. It opposed Bricup initially, a group set up to campaign for an academic boycott and which has achieved more in terms of helping kick-start the Boycott movement in Britain than anything PSC has done. In the trade unions Bernard Regan, who was a member of the Executive of the National Union of Teachers, has concentrated on securing affiliations from national trade unions, primarily through personal contacts with Executive members. Whilst affiliations are to be welcomed, the price that appears to have been exacted is that PSC will support a 2 State position and expect as little as possible from those unions. There has been no debate whatsoever in PSC about our trade union work. This is the exclusive territory of Regan and friends. In particular we should not take an anti-Zionist position, question the racist nature of the ‘Jewish’ State or the role of Trade Union Friends of Israel (now renamed Tulip – a wilting flower if ever there was one).
Routine demonstrations, lots of lobbying of Parliament and MPs, is the staple fare of PSC Executive. Quite why MPs, who have little influence, most of whom will soon disappear, have been prioritised is a mystery. If you want to persuade an MP then you have to mobilise to ensure that they are bombarded by constituents not invest vast sums in lobbying Parliament.
The invasion of Gaza, which had been signalled for months, began when Israel killed over 200 Palestinian Police cadets on their graduation day. It was clear that despite the PR offensive of the Israeli government, ably abetted by the BBC of course, that the blitzkrieg on Gaza was a complete and utter political disaster. Gaza was as big a disaster in its own way as Lebanon had been in 2006. As pictures of Palestinian schools being bombed with phosphorous were shown across the world, people queued to sign petitions and give money.
Yet by engaging in routine opposition and refusing to rethink their strategy PSC Executive have completely squandered the energy and opportunities that the Gaza invasion have offered. Today it is difficult to think of one single gain that has resulted from all the activities in January/February.
For example one weakness of PSC has been in the student movement. At the beginning of the year there was an absolutely unprecedented wave of student occupations over Gaza calling on university administrations to disinvest from Israeli companies. PSC did next to nothing during this period. It did nothing to support the occupations or to provide them with speakers. It only held meetings of students after the occupations were over and as a result is left with the same pitiful organisation that it was always had in the student movement. The student organiser, Bryoni Shanks is in Socialist Action and the organiser for the Student Broad Left, which is a Socialist Action front, Ruqayyah Collector, who has only recently been appointed as Campaigns woker is also a Socialist Action member
In the meantime PSC Executive have successfully managed to insert 3 members of Socialist Action as paid staff of PSC. Betty Hunter has made it clear that the BDS Committee is to be subject to greater control by the Executive rather than the organisation becoming an enabler to a myriad of Palestine supporting organisations. At the same time, the Trade Union Action Committee, the personal fiefdom of Bernard Regan, meets but produces no minutes (at least none we’ve ever seen), organises no network of union activists (since they consist of minor trade union bureaucrats) and has no declared membership. What it certainly doesn’t contain is rank and file trade union activists.
But the TUAC do have the right to appoint 2 members of the Executive which Bernard wanted increased to five! By way of contrast the Constitution of PSC allows for 5 regional representatives to be appointed to the Executive. The Executive has prevaricated and delayed and finally come up with a torturously long bureaucratic process before a region is recognised, including the requirement of a 2/3 vote and ratification by the subsequent Annual General Meeting. Contrast this with TUAC’s ability to place 2 members on the Executive without any semblance of accountability or transparency.
The initial letter to PSC Executive, sent on 9th August, at first only produced a reaction from Hilary Wise, PSC magazine editor and another of the IMG émigrés, who was obsessed with what the attendance at the meeting was. Realising however that that this was hardly likely to impress people, the Executive decided on a reply from Betty Hunter that begged more questions than it answered. It was a pro forma response that ignored the key political question of Socialist Action’s role and who controls PSC Executive de facto.
Indeed it ignored all the 4 points made in the letter to them. These were concerning the secret memo that Bernard Regan distributed to chosen friends before the PSC AGM urging a vote for a pre-determined slate, the high staff turnover as staff were either sacked or forced out, why despite the claims about equal opportunities 3 of the staff just happen to be members of a tiny political group and concerns about why all the money collected in January has already been spent without any thought for the future. Coupled with the dismissal of the bookkeeper recently this is worrying to say the least.
But such was the rush to get Betty Hunter’s letter out that it was felt it could not await discussion at the next PSC Executive. This was despite a specific request by PSC Vice-Chair, the respected Palestinian academic Kamal Hawwash that any such response should await an Executive meeting where it could be discussed. When Kamal’s views were simply overridden and ignored, he was forced into the position of feeling he had no alternative but to resign. A second resignation, that of Zoe Mars from Brighton PSC, soon followed. Again we respect the wishes of both individuals who wished their letters to remain internal to PSC.
But if Betty Hunter has been a model of evasiveness and Bernard Regan has followed a policy of silence that would put a Trappist monk to shame, since accountability is beneath him, then some of the attack dogs aren’t so restrained. In particular an ex-member of PSC Executive Dianne Langford, penned a particular poisonous missive which was widely distributed within PSC (see below). Its main claim to fame would appear to be the number of lies that one document can contain, presumably following Goebbel’s dictum that the bigger the lie the more easily it will be believed: Despite its claims:
i. I have never written to Merton PSC asking them to do anything, let alone not affiliate to PSC nationally. No evidence has or will be supplied to back this up because it doesn’t exist.
ii. Langford deliberately distorts the meaning of what I wrote on this blog in order to practice a version of political terrorism. It wasn’t PSC members who I termed ‘useful idiots’ rather that this was the attitude of Socialist Action to non-members who go along with them. The actual sentence was:
And as Lenin put it in a different context, their [Socialist Action’s] attitude to those on PSC Executive who have gone along with them without actually being members is that they are 'useful idiots'.iii. Langford’s memory of the early 1990’s is equally faulty. Neither Roland Rance nor myself have ever demanded or argued for the funding of a tour in order to denounce Arafat and the PLO. What is a fact is that both Roland and myself, two of PSC’s founding members, argued in an emergency conference of PSC in 1993, that PSC should not support the Oslo Accords, We argued that Oslo would lead to the further subjugation and dispossession of the Palestinians. The phrase which I used in articles at the time was that the faces of the Israeli military and police would be replaced by Palestinian ones.
Oslo was an utter disaster for the Palestinians and PLO members such as the late Edward Said and its deputy Chairman, Farrouk Khadoumi, neither of whom supported or support a single state, criticised it precisely because they could foresee the consequences.
Were we wrong to oppose Oslo, an agreement which said nothing about the further expansion of settlements and which granted the PLO control over just one West Bank town, Jericho? Certainly Betty Hunter didn’t think so. Roland and myself resigned from PSC over this issue and when I met Betty at a meeting of Bricup, to which we had been invited back in 2006, she asked me why I didn’t rejoin PSC. When I mentioned Oslo she said that no one would now disagree with the position we then took!
iv. I am unaware of any ‘scurrilous’ e-mails that circulated before the last PSC AGM. Certainly I saw no such e-mails and nor do I recollect any which advocated voting for a specific slate in order to defeat an ‘opposition within PSC which I firmly believe would take us well away from these objectives’ which were ‘the need to get the focus of the campaign firmly fixed on the events in Gaza and to keep trade unions at the centre of the PSC.’ In other words it was a blatant lie given that I for one have constantly urged the necessity of getting the trade unions to mount an effective Boycott of Israel, including speaking at my own national conference (UNISON) at two of the last 3 conferences in support of Boycott.
v. Langford believes it was ‘unnecessary’ to focus on Histadrut whilst Gaza was burning, as if these were somehow incompatible. In fact the dissociation of the trade union movement from Israel’s Zionist ‘trade union’ Histadrut, which has helped build the settlements in the occupied territories, which has never once opposed that occupation, which supported the burning of Gaza and pioneered all the crucial aspects of Israeli Apartheid, is very much in line with the needs of the Palestinians. It is, after all, PACBI and Israeli Arab trade unionists who have urged that we engage in such a boycott.
Langford then suggests that it is Bernard Regan and his secretive committee who ‘deserve credit’ for ‘bringing the pernicious nature of the Histadrut to the fore.’ Quite the opposite in fact. If we and Scottish PSC had not highlighted the issue of Histadrut, Bernard’s Committee would have said absolutely nothing at all about them. It was only as a result of our motions calling for the breaking of links with Histadrut that they put forward a motion calling for the ‘review’ of links with the organisation. Indeed after Electronic Intifada had asked me to write an article on the racist history of Histadrut Bernard Regan told me at a meeting with the Israel Arab workers’ organisation, Sawt el-Amel that the article had been posted on the PSC web site. If it was posted it has subsequently disappeared.
If, instead of calling for a review of links with Histadrut, which can mean anything and nothing, PSC had called for unions to break links with this scab organisation, there is little doubt that we could have won over some unions. In UNISON I successfully spoke to an emergency motion at the AGM of the South-East Region calling for breaking links with Histadrut. It was supported by the Black Members Group and about 90% of delegates. The South-East region is not a left-wing region yet there was hardly any opposition. Yet the reality is that on Histadrut we had to fight both the UNISON Executive and PSC Executive. To have passed such a motion would have dealt a considerable political blow to the Zionists. Instead PSC has a position that merely echoes that of some trade unions, including UNISON and Scottish TUC. Instead of showing the way, PSC is following in the footsteps of those it is supposedly trying to win over!
The rest of Langford’s missive is both inaccurate and tendentious, such as the claim that there is only 1 member of Socialist Action in post at the PSC office.
At PSC’s Branch Forum this Saturday in Sheffield the issue is going to be discussed, the Executive’s letter having been sent out to all PSC branches but strangely minus the letter it is replying to!! Meanwhile the letter to the Executive has been resent this week with double of the number of signatories. One suspects that the Executive will be seeking to deflect the issue rather than deal with it honestly and up front. Either way the dilemma that has been raised by the resignation of Kamal Hawwash, whose treatment was by any standards disgraceful, remains. Is PSC going to become a genuine mass solidarity organisation which reaches out to the broadest number of people whilst not being afraid of debating things like the role of the Palestinian Authority and our attitude to it, or is it merely going to be lobby fodder for the ambitions of a secretive sect?
>>+ resignation of Kamal Hawwash and Zoe Mars
To members of the PSC Executive, including Zoe and Kamal
Copy to branch co-ordinators
Dear EC Members,
I've seen the letter addressed to you plus copies of various emails originating from Tony Greenstein, including one urging the Merton branch not to affiliate to PSC and trying to recruit members to join the `opposition' to PSC.
On his public blog Tony Greenstein calls those who voted for you `useful idiots.' It seems to me he has adopted a position of perpetual grievance in relation to PSC since the early 1990s when he and Roland Rance demanded that PSC should use its resources on a speaking tour denouncing Arafat and the PLO. The then National Secretary of PSC, John Gee, was castigated for standing firm on the principle of self-determination for the Palestinian people. From what I have observed over many years, Tony Greenstein and others have perhaps tried to act out political disputes between factions in Palestine. Several attempts have been made to divert PSC from its task of building a mass movement in Britain that supports the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and upholds their human, civil and national rights. Where such individuals were unable to find genuine grievances on which to base their opposition they have manufactured dissent.
Prior to the last AGM scurrilous emails were in circulation indicating that a take-over was in the making – by the signatories to the letter to the EC.
Bernard Regan sent out a confidential email out of concern that there was opposition to PSC's principles of self-determination and also resentment at expanding trade union affiliations. In my opinion his concern has proved to be well founded.
At the last AGM, while Gaza was still burning, valuable time was spent debating an unnecessary resolution on the issue of the Histadrut. Demands were made that would have hobbled PSC's trade union work. Subsequent success on the part of PSC's trade union colleagues in bringing the pernicious nature of the Histadrut to the fore has shown that the movers of the resolution had no understanding of the process involved. To my mind, Bernard and his trade unions colleagues have transformed the way trade unions relate to Palestine and deserve credit for that. Issues raised by the circulation of Bernard's email have been completely eclipsed by unprecedented levels of aggressive, bullying emails, blogging and organising against the elected Executive, while caucusing by the signatories was clearly observable at the AGM.
Claims, based upon `information' taken from Wikipedia, that PSC has been taken over by a shady group, so shady `they don't even have a website,' conform to a past pattern of behaviour in which false allegations are made in order to position the signatories as a virtuous opposition and to foster internal division. My understanding is that only one member of Socialist Action is in post at the PSC office, yet this is spun as a `take-over.'
In the recent past PSC successfully withstood a real take-over attempt by an organisation that sought to impose undue influence and demanded seats on the Executive. What is happening now is redolent of that time. Yet for all their concerns about a `take-over,' the signatories to the letter were silent when a serious take-over attempt was actually in progress.
It is true that PSC is vulnerable to vexatious opposition and take-overs. Only by sticking to our principle of putting the Palestinian people's interests first and always respecting their self-determination can our campaign soar above all efforts to undermine our solidarity work. Efforts to destroy solidarity with the Palestinians and to create disunity amongst ourselves will always intensify in times of acute danger for the Palestinians.
Sarah Colborne has worked unstintingly for PSC for ten years, as a volunteer for most of that time. Although a talented organiser and speaker, she has been self-effacing and has never pushed herself forward to hold any position in the organisation nor sought to promote herself. I remember when we set up the London Branch of PSC about eight years ago Sarah was one of a group, including Jenny Najar, who established a revitalised core of volunteer grassroots activists, of which Jenny briefly was the chair. Jenny should be well aware that Sarah has never sought to impose policies counter to those of PSC, unlike Jenny's co-signatories. It is strange that several of the signatories to the letter are themselves `reputed to be' members of small left-wing organisations, which is, of course, in itself, unproblematic.
While complaining about `lack of transparency' the signatories to the letter fail to disclose to whom their communications have been addressed, making it difficult to answer people's concerns. I am worried about the issues of data protection and confidentiality that this raises, as it is not clear how the recipients' addresses have been gathered. Breaches of this sort undermine the confidence of the membership in the ability of the office to keep their details safe in a professional way and I believe this has been the object of the exercise.
As a member of the EC for several years I know that there are constitutional obligations regarding fairness in the employment and management of staff and I was a member of the EC when these guidelines were painstakingly drawn up with the involvement of Jenny Najar.
The allegation that there has been a high turnover of staff at the office is completely false and vexatious. Martial Kurtz, the longest-serving staff member, has been in post for several years and Steve has also been employed long term. Like Sarah, Martial put in years of voluntary work before being appointed to the staff. All staff posts have been enabled by hard-won funds raised by members of the EC, particularly by Betty and, latterly, with the help of affiliated unions.
The PSC is a grassroots organisation that relies on dedicated volunteers. The General Secretary in particular carries a heavy burden of work, including, as mentioned above, raising large sums of money through events such as major art exhibitions and concerts that promote Palestinian culture. It is a disgrace that a person of such integrity as Betty, who has performed her role without regard to her own personal health or private life, should be subjected to a constant barrage of unfounded accusations and attacks from the signatories to this letter. As General Secretary she has endured years of harassment from individuals and groups of people who seem, bizarrely, to be disgruntled at PSC's growth and influence.
It is distressing that a handful of members who were unsuccessful in the election to the EC have chosen to ally themselves with efforts to undermine and divide PSC. Recently, a meeting was organised in Birmingham entitled `Reclaiming PSC for its Members,' yet only selected members were invited. I would question whether such behaviour is compatible with continued membership of PSC.
I note that the authors of this letter have adopted a more pusillanimous tone than material formerly circulated. But it is still nonsensical and pettifogging and can have no other intention than to knock PSC off course at time when the Palestinians need a strong, united solidarity movement in Britain rooted in the notion of self-determination and the Right of Return.
I implore the EC, branches and membership to stand firm against these efforts to damage the PSC and its solidarity work.
Dear signatories to the letter dated 9th August,
We will be very happy to discuss these issues at the Branch Forum on 12th September. Some of these points ave already been dealt with at the Branch Forums this year in Cambridge and London.
1. Interference in the democratic process at the PSC AGM
The PSC AGM including the elections, was conducted in a democratic way in accordance with the constitution. National affiliated organisations over 100,000 do have three votes. These amounted to 6 organisations at the 2009 AGM, a total of 18 votes.
Many emails were circulating before the AGM referring to the political positions of candidates. The email you refer to was a personal one, and not in contravention of any PSC rule. Clear agreed procedures for the AGM 2010 on 6th February will be published in plenty of time for the next AGM which will again focus on how we can build the most effective solidarity with the Palestinian people.
2. Fairness, accountability and equal opportunity in recruitment processes.
All of the permanent posts you mention were advertised to members, supporters and interested organisations. Our recruitment processes are fair and in accordance with equal opportunities. If we were to ask candidates for any post for their party political affiliations then this would be against equal opportunities.
The practice of putting accusations against named staff members in emails and on websites which go to many people including non members is discriminatory and unfair.
The staff do not make policy but must agree with the aims and objectives of PSC and are accountable to the EC. The EC are accountable to our membership through the AGM.
3. High staff turnover
In January the PSC staff, EC and membership responded brilliantly to the demands generated by the Gaza campaign. This was supplemented at national level by many volunteers who helped us to cope with new membership and other aspects of our work to support branches and members in taking up the defence of the people of Gaza. We now have a significant number of regular volunteers who help the staff and the EC to ensure that the work of PSC is increasingly effective.
We started a review of the staffing last December and have a stable and committed staff:
Sarah Colborne – Director of Campaigns and Operations -since April 2009
Steve Sibley – Administration Manager and Volunteer Coordinator
Martial Kurtz – National organiser
Ruqayyah Collector – Campaigns and Communications Officer (4 days) – since July 2009
The requirement for permanent part time book-keeping and data processing is currently under review.
4. Financial management
Yearly accounts are being prepared now. A budget will be prepared for the EC and membership.
At the Branch Forum we had a brief discussion on the need for fundraising. The point was made that the additional funds we gained in January because of increased interest during the Gaza crisis were allocated to immediate campaign demands such as the demonstrations as well as additional literature, improved Palestine News etc.
Finally, the PSC EC is anything but homogeneous, it includes people with a broad range of political perspectives and backgrounds all dedicated to helping to build a broad and mainstream organisation in support of the Palestinian people. We were elected at the biggest AGM yet, with about 250 members present from around 25 branches and we will be accountable to the membership at the next AGM. The EC will be considering these issues as part of its normal business when it meets on 5th September. We would like to point out that if any contact details have been taken from the PSC office, this would raise data protection issues.