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Thursday, 20 January 2011

PSC AGM 2011 - a Rigged & Tame Affair

PSC Largely Irrelevant to Solidarity Work in Britain

It is sometime since I last posted an article on the goings on Palestine Solidarity Campaign nationally and in particular the efforts of a small neo-Stalinist group, Socialist Action, to retain control by stifling debate and fixing votes.

At last year’s AGM, PSC Executive went to extraordinary lengths to retain control including ensuring that all affiliated unions sent their maximum representation, fully ‘briefed’ as to whom to vote for and what to vote for.

The ‘high point’ of last years AGM came when the Chair, veteran trade union bureaucrat Hugh Lanning of PSC, someone who has spent a lifetime straddling the divide between the left and right, prevented conference even voting on the motion to break links with Histadrut . His reasons were that a motion had already been passed which was incompatible with Resolution 2. In fact that was always a matter of opinion but in any democratic organisation, the decision would have been left to the members to decide whether or not there was an incompatibility or indeed whether both resolutions could co-exist.

Activists in different unions had in effect to fight their own solidarity organisation and the trade union bureaucrats allied with them in order to propose a boycott of Histadrut. Histadrut is the key organisation which led the colonisation of Palestine and one that is a thoroughly racist settler ‘union’. But according to PSC’s Trade Union Officer, Bernard Reagan, at last year’s AGM, the Histadrut was a ‘changed creature’. Just how much it had changed was demonstrated by the fulsome support that Histadrut gave to the attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and the murder of the 9 activists when it issued a statement supporting the murderers.

So in the summer 2010 edition of Palestine News we had the absurd situation whereby PSC was opposed to a Boycott of Histadrut and yet UCU had cut links and Unison and Scottish TUC had suspended them and even the British TUC had tentatively agreed to ‘review’ them (though this was not policy contrary to PSC assertions). So what did Palestine News say? Well it reported what was happening in a short snippet at the bottom of pages 11 and 12. The article gives no clue as to what PSC’s policy on Histadrut actually was. Instead it talks about the review of relationships with Histadrut carried out by unions and confines itself to ‘seeking a positive outcome to these reviews in terms of understanding the Histadrut ’s historic role.’ Well that is very clear!

PSC admits that unions have contacted it asking for ‘clarification’ of PSC’s attitude to Histadrut. Problem is that it’s ‘attitude’ is one of support for the existing relationship, which rather negates the purpose of PSC. So the statement it was forced to put out simply talks about urging all unions to review their relationships (though PSC has never previously asked them to do so) and called for an ‘end to any direct bilateral relations with Histadrut and welcomes UNISON’s decision to suspend relations whilst the review is conducted.’ So apparently, although it’s not PSC policy, PSC is now opposed to direct bi-lateral relations between individual unions and Histadrut but not to any relationship between the TUC and Histadrut , which is what the latter claims to be, i.e. a confederation of unions. In fact it is not, but Bernard Regan doesn’t deal in such subtleties.

What this of course leaves out is bilateral relations between individual British unions and their Israeli counterparts, which are themselves components of Histadrut but not themselves formal representatives of Histadrut. In Histadrut ‘unions’ are actually departments of the overall organisation, a typical corporatist organisation. PSC’s statement was anodyne, conspicuous for what it didn’t say and attempted to find a form of weasel words to get around its disastrous lack of policy. Of course even this would be welcome if PSC Executive were serious about it but they are not. This is the best they can do, at a time when interest in Palestine was at its height. Now there is a low level of continuous violence rather than one particular outrage or invasion, PSC has let the matter drop entirely.

Either way PSC Executive crossed the rubicon. Its contempt for the membership at the 2010 AGM was total. Throughout the day the Executive had sought to use any and every tactic to delay discussion. A number of things were blindingly clear to those who were in control of their eyes and ears – Socialist Action were both using and limiting PSC for the purposes of their own group primarily. We had failed NUS Executive candidate Fiona Edwards proclaiming how students were supporting the people of Gaza and occupying their colleges at the same time as I held up an article from Communist Student showing how she had opposed an occupation at her own university, Sheffield! That kind of dishonesty and straight-forward lying comes easily to the seasoned cooks of SA, for whom PSC members are putty.

Many people, especially on the activist wing of the Palestine solidarity movement had already begun to form alternative organisations and networks, including Boycott Israel Network.

Unfortunately the Margate conference did not see any radical steps forward as BIN itself became bogged down in small groups, most of which have not been active. Even the more active JNF group, wholly controlled by Mick Napier and Sofiah McLeod of Scottish PSC, has become bogged down in assembling an e-book, a worthy project in itself, but divorced from any proposals for a campaign.

In the past two days, the JNF has co-ordinated with the Israeli military the destruction, for the 9th time of the village of Al-Arakib and its replanting with trees, the normal method of erasure of the Arab presence. Yet there has not been a peep from the group.

Last year, when it was proposed that an open letter be sent to Ed Milliband urging him not to become a patron of the JNF (unlike Blair/Brown) an absurd error strewn letter, which congratulated Milliband on being elected leader (why?) was produced by the groups representative on the BIN Steering Committee. The Islamist politics of the person in question coupled with the deafening silence of the usually voluble Scottish PSC members meant that the letter sank without a trace.

Because it was impossible to get even the most obvious errors corrected, I was forced to compose my own letter which 50 people signed and it was then sent to Miliband (who has not replied!). It was then sent to the Guardian, which published it. Even better the Chair of the JNF Sam Hayek, after a week, came back with a limp and weak letter which alleged that the JNF was there for the benefit of both Jews and Arabs, which gave both myself and a member of Brighton PSC, Barry Stierer, an opportunity to come back in the Guardian letters pages (this isn’t usually allowed). The Jewish Chronicle was reduced to complaining that I had ‘implied’ that Hayek was lying for his country, whereas I had made it explicit that he was a liar, albeit he was lying on behalf of another country!

But overall there is doubt about what direction BIN is heading in and whether it is destined to become fossilised.

But although PSC does very little in the way of concrete organisation or support to the BDS movement it absorbs a disproportionate amount of funds. In essence it is paid guilt money by trade union leaders who do nothing except mouth platitudes. And PSC leaders are happy to continue with that situation.

It is an open question what, apart from servicing PSC’s own organisational needs and engaging in the useless activity of Parliamentary lobbying (this from a Trotskyist organisation) PSC actually does for the £400,000 a year it gets. It does nothing on BDS apart from putting out joint statements with the TUC leadership saying that Israeli goods are ‘legitimate

PSC and its chief hatchetman Bernard Regan blew its own trumpet over a motion passed at TUC Conference, despite nothing being done about this policy (apart from producing a postcard!). But the real damage was the way the TUC leaders and its General Secretary Brendan Barber have used this resolution in order to say that Israeli goods apart from those originating in the West Bank are legitimate.

At last year’s conference the Executive both fiddled and rigged the debating and voting, ensuring that ordinary members had as little say as possible (& let’s be honest, most members of PSC are inactive and conference rests primarily upon those for whom the major activity of the year is having their heart warmed at conference) whilst using every trick in the book to attack their opponents personally.

It is generally agreed by activists that attending PSC Conference is now a waste of time and money. SPSC members made it clear they wouldn’t be wasting their monies and the same is true of many other activists I’ve spoken to, especially from the north. Why go when the voting is predetermined?

We had the ludicrous spectacle of PSC Conference last year voting not to vote on a motion breaking links with Histadrut (the most elementary form of Boycott) and a few months later the University & Colleges Union voting to cut its links with them!

Unison and Scottish TUC likewise voted to suspend their links, so we have the absurd situation whereby PSC is tailing even sections of the trade unions, whereas a true solidarity movement would be in advance of the unions, trying to pull them along.

In previous years the Executive of PSC has refused to condemn the anti-semitic Gilad Atzmon wing of the Palestine solidarity movement, believing anti-semitism to be ‘irrelevant’ (which it is but unfortunately the allegation of anti-semitism is not irrelevant). This has been an Executive led not just by the stupid but the wilfully blind. It is no coincidence that Ruquah Collector, Socialist Action’s appointee as Campaigns Worker, proved so incompetent that she was ‘persuaded’ to resign and is now standing for election to the Executive.

PSC has also distinguished itself by inviting the representative of the quisling Palestinian Authority to conference each year, refusing to utter a peep about the collaboration of these people with the Israeli military. It has also, of course, said nothing about the collaboration of regimes such as that in Egypt or Abbas’s support for Israel’s attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla (to the extent that Abbas has sabotaged critical resolutions in the UN).

This is par for the course for an organisation which is wedded by every action it performs to the idea of a 2 State Solution when it is obvious to all except the visually and aurally impaired that a 2 State solution is not on the cards anymore (not that it ever was feasible).

PSC Executive and its General Secretary Betty Hunter in particular have proclaimed that PSC is building a ‘mass anti-apartheid organisation’ on Palestine. The reality is somewhat different. PSC’s membership records are in a mess, they barely grew after the attack on Gaza and are now in decline, there are probably no more than 3,000 member at best, activity nationally is non-existent and political interventions over such things as the Europe Working Definition of anti-semitism, which seeks to criminalise criticism of Israel, is non-existent. PSC is politically incoherent, it has nothing to say, apart from the repetition of trite and stale slogans.

So the long overdue retirement of Betty Hunter as PSC General Secretary is welcome if somewhat overdue. She has presided over one catastrophe after another. At a time when it was possible to grow by leaps and bounds and really put BDS on the map, she decided to hand over PSC lock, stock and barrel to Socialist Action. Sara Colborne, Socialist Actions main staff member (and who is the only Executive Member to have an activist background – she was on the Mavi Marmara) has run rings around Betty. Betty Hunter set her face against PSC becoming an anti-Zionist organisation with something to say about the racism within Israel and the fact that there is a link between the evictions in Sheikh Jarrar and Al-Arakib and the evictions in the Jordan Valley. PSC Executive therefore opposed a resolution I moved which talked about campaigning against apartheid within Israel. This is a step too far for the two statists. Yet despite her abysmal record Betty Hunter is likely to be lauded to the skies and the conference will be more of a requiem than an activist gathering.

Indeed it is a sad commentary on the clique that now runs PSC that they can’t find anyone to replace Betty. So they’ve abolished the post altogether!

PSC Conference
PSC Conference is likely to be a quiet affair this year if the resolutions are anything to go by. Firstly there is an Executive Report which is more notable for what is ommitted than included. There is no explanation of why there was no trade union conference organised. There is however a financial appeal, presumably so that more Socialist Action [SA] members can obtain gainful employment.

Resolution 2 ‘Branches & Membership’ launches a membership drive and talks about looking at ways to improve communication between branches. Notable in this respect is the complete lack of mention of a regional organisation, despite it being in the Constitution. SA don’t like Regions as they bring branches together, something which like the good Stalinists they are, might mean a challenge to their authority.

Resolution 3 on Trade Unions is notable for two things. Firstly no mention is made of a conference for trade union activists on Palestine which could be used to organise in unions. PSC Executive work with the leaders of the unions not the members. But they do mention, again in a wholly dishonest way, Histadrut . Instead of laying out what it wants and why, and explaining the historic role of Histadrut as the main agent of discrimination and how this has not changed today, they focus entirely on tactics. And they call for the suspension of ‘bilateral contacts’ rather than for the trade union movement as a whole and individual unions in particular to break all contact with this racist ‘union’.

But PSC Executive can’t digest all the nonsense they spouted last year so instead ‘PSC advises all British trade unions to review any direct [note not indirect!] relations with the Histadrut and suspend relations while their review is conducted. On completion of their review, if they are satisfied that the Histadrut continues to support the policies opposed to international law… we urge trade uniosn to continue the suspension of, or to have no direct bi-lateral relations with, the Histadrut .’ Make of that what you will. Clearly our efforts over the past 2 years have produced some movement but what kind of solidarity organisation is it which is incapable of saying what its view of Histadrut is, what it sees as Histadrut ’s role and what it is urging. Suspension is a cowards way out.

Of the 12 resolutions, 6 of them are directly moved by the Executive and another 3 are moved by either members of the Executive or their died-in-the-wool supporters. There are 3 constitutional amendments. One which makes national PSC members entitled to be members of their local branch (has this ever been a problem?) assumes that there is a branch. The only vaguely interesting amendment is by West Midlands PSC which states that in the event that the Executive tries to fiddle the debate again, by barring a resolution being voted on on grounds of incompatibility with another resolution, that the movers of the resolution should be notified 3 weeks in advance! I don’t suspect that this amendment stands a great chance but who knows, maybe PSC Executive are in a contrite mood. After all, after having removed everyone from its Boycott Committee (or forcing them into resignation) it now proposes to make Boycott a priority. It is noticeable that not only is there no mention of Ahava but also no explanation made of its previous failures and control freakery. This resolution shows every sign of tokenism, not least in its call to Boycott Israeli products, given that the very same products were termed legitimate in the PSC/TUC leaflet produced last year.

All in all this promises to be a particularly dull and uninspiring conference with guest speakers being relied on to rally the troops and give heart to those attending.

The tragedy of this is that we need a national solidarity organisation in Britain today to pull together the disparate elements. BIN has become an activist talking shop, whilst having no organisation to speak of, hence it doesn’t do organisation.

The one positive proposal in Bernard Regan’s Trade Union motion last year was an instruction to organise a PSC trade union conference this year. Unfortunately Bernard seems to have got cold feet, no doubt understanding that any such conference might end up seeking to organise the better exclusion of Histadrut and we wouldn’t want to upset Brendan Barber so the entire conference had been pulled.

In its own say PSC is a good example of the pernicious effect of the far-left and how it takes over organisations and strips them of any real content or life.

Tony Greenstein

Other articles on PSC include this, this, this, this and this.


Deborah Fink said...

This is a little OTT. You make it look as if no one does anything apart from you!

There are some very good people in PSC and some good regional branches - Camden, West London, York.....It's the leadership that's the problem, not the members. Yes, some don't do anything apart from turning up at AGMs, but that's also true of other organisations.

Likewise, some of the working groups of BIN are doing a lot, e.g. my own, the cultural boycott group. How would you know if you're not in them? Just because they don't make media headlines, it doesn't mean that they are not working behind the scenes.

Maybe PSC will be a bit better now....But Hugh Lanning does lack imagination. He initially wouldn't let me sing an alternative carol down the megaphone at the Gaza demo over Xmas - he preferred to stick with the inane and unoriginal chanting. I had to persuade him.

Erez said...

Histadrut and it's offspring "Ha'Noar Ha'oved Ve'Halomed" (Working And Learning Youth)
are Zionist Israeli organizations.

Both has Arab and Jewish members, including in their leadership.
Both respect and build Arab-Jewish solidarity much more than any other large Israeli organisation.

At 2006, during the Second Lebanon war, my movement, the WALY, evacuated thousands of Israeli children form the northern region, based on their Geography, not their cultural group.
Arab, Druze and Jewish children went to summer camps near Tel-Aviv, instead staying at bomb shelters, escaping missiles, which was more meaningful to Druze and Arabs, who has less shelters in their settlements by far.

The ability to provide those summer camps is based upon the continuous educational work. Arabs joined Histadrut in the late 60's, and about 30 years ago the WALY created its Arab section.

No child had to pay anything for those summer camps.
The JNF funded a major portion of this activity, though we decided to do it much before we asked for their money to support it.

I don't know whether it was the first time, but the JNF did support Israeli Children for being Israelis, of all kinds.

This can be a quiet small sign for a better future.

Many other small Zionist organisations support Jewish-Arab dialogue inside and outside of Israel.

Israel is under danger of a fascist takeover and we can see the signs of it happening.

I know the Histadrut from inside - it's quite corrupt indeed, but it is the biggest NGO in Israel, and the only one, able to force the government to weaken its dreadful capitalistic policy.

The Histadrut did not support any murder.
No one knows exactly what happened aboard the Marmara, and the IDF statements are not trustworthy as well as those of the activists.

Though It is reasonable to assume, that the IDF could plan better, and prevent any loss of life, when activists become violent with different cold weapons against soldiers, death is a possible, unintentional outcome. The huge political damage to Israel reveals more than anything else, the stupidity of those deaths, but those were no murders.

You are free to try to attack British (or any other) soldiers with cold weapons at sea and see what happens to You afterwards.
I'm joking, of course.

to summarise,
Why do You attack the weakening defence lines of democracy in Israel ?
Why do You collaborate with Israeli fascists ?

Tony Greenstein said...

During what is euphemistically termed the '2nd Lebanon War' Israeli Arabs were consistently left out from protection against rockets and indeed refused compensation for any damage that occurred to their property from missiles.

Yes Histadrut has Arab and Jewish members but it was set up as the General Confederation of Hebrew Labour and campaigned for a Boycott of Arab labour. it has been a key institution of israeli apartheid ever since.

Most Arabs choose not to join now that its health service, Kupat Holim, is no longer run by it. Histadrut has an appalling record of racist discrimination and was responsible, when it was israel's second largest employer for systematically refusing to employ Israeli Arabs in 'security' industries it owned like Tadiran.

Tony Greenstein said...

Yes Debbie I'm more than aware that PSC has good members and that the leadership is the problem. Try reading the article it is a criticism of the leaders not the members. however most of that membership is inactive and that is also a problem. Some are very active and they are the ones who are most disillusioned with it.

Some of the working groups are functioning but their activity is questionable and there is no overall framework strategically which is why PSC can ignore them.

I'm sorry Hugh wouldn't let u sing!

Deborah Fink said...

I did read the article. It was the way you said that most of the membership isn't dong anything. Do you know what percentage is inactive? I agree that it is generally the active ones who are disillusioned but there are exceptions to that.

Do you know what the BIN working groups are dong?

Hugh did let me sing in the end, begrudgingly. Maybe I'm too high brow for him!

Tony Greenstein said...

Nope, I don't know what % of PSC membership is inactive. Since I don't know, and I suspect PSC Executive don't know, how many members they have, that is mathematically impossible!

However it must be very high outside a very few active branches.

And nope, I don't know what the majority of BIN groups are doing. By all accounts neither do most people who are active, which suggests not a great deal.

Yes Debbie, you are obviously too high brow for Hugh!