PSC Branch Forum - Questions Remain to be Answered
PSC’s Branch Forum met on Saturday in Sheffield. Whereas there is normally a turnout of about 25-30, numbers nearly doubled yesterday as the Executive sought to maximise attendance from their supporters as a result of the recent letter sent by members expressing concern at the influence and effects of the Socialist Action group.
The first item on the agenda were the Executive proposals concerning regional representation on PSC Executive. Branches are entitled to form regional structures, which have to be ratified at the PSC AGM, ‘in consultation with’ PSC Executive. The Executive made proposals to make it as bureaucratically difficult as possible, with 2/3 votes at an AGM etc.. This was I understand, although I was late and didn’t hear the discussion, rejected.
Instead I entered in the middle of a speech by Betty Hunter. One of the regular features of any national PSC meeting is how the Executive paint a picture of uninterrupted progress and achievement. There is no room for self-criticism or reflection on what went wrong or could have been done better. All discussion about strategy and objectives is confined to the groups who politically control PSC.
Thus a motion to next week’s TUC Congress from the FBU, which calls for support for BDS and a ‘review’ of the TUC’s relationship with Israel’s apartheid union, Histadrut, is all the work of the secretive Trade Union Action Committee and the TU officer, Bernard Regan. The motion is, of course extremely welcome, despite the submission of a wrecking amendment by GMBATU, one of PSC’s affiliates. Whether it is passed remains uncertain, given that the TUC has a history of doing deals to neuter and water down resolutions. We know that TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber opposes a Boycott of Israel because at PSC’s fringe meeting at the TUC in Brighton 3 years ago he hotfooted it from the Trade Union Friends of Israel meeting to tell us that he was opposed to Boycott! And when I challenged him and asked what in that case he would recommend to pressurise Israel into ending the Occupation, he continued reading from a prepared script after recovering from the shock of being interrupted.
However like the famous photo of Trotsky with Lenin that Stalin had erased, there is no mention of the inconvenient fact that Bernard and the Executive fought tooth and nail against raising the issue of Histadrut at all. After all, as one of their more vitriolic supporters Dianne Langford wrote: ‘At the last AGM, while Gaza was still burning, valuable time was spent debating an unnecessary resolution on the issue of the Histadrut.’ In fact there were 4 resolutions but we’ll pass over that. Histadrut was seen, in other words, as a distraction despite the fact that it had given its full support to the attack on Gaza, has played a key role in effecting a racial division of labour in Israel itself between Jewish and Arab workers, and its role in the trade union movement in this country is as a propaganda arm of the Israeli government.
We called for PSC to adopt a policy of calling on the trade unions to break their links with Histadrut. Of course this meant that PSC adopted a clear policy, not that we expect all unions will agree with us, including our affiliates. After all, what are we going to say and are saying to unions which are reviewing their relationship? Keep inviting them? Keep the links? By doing this trade unions could make it clear that there is no symmetry between Israel and the Palestinians. That it is not a question of ‘mutual recognition’ but like South Africa the Israeli state is an oppressor state. It was only after Scottish PSC moved a motion calling for links to be broken with Histadrut and Brighton and York PSCs moved a similar motion, that an emergency motion was submitted by the Executive which condemned the Histadrut statement of which supported Israel’s attack on Gaza. This motion merely
‘request(ed) the TUAC to take initiatives with the aim of informing trade unions and trade union members about the position of the Histadrut, to encourage unions to make known to the Histadrut their opposition to the attacks on Gaza and the ongoing occupation and to discuss with the unions and the EC what further actions to take relating to the Histadrut.’Also passed was a stronger policy moved by Sue Blackwell which spoke of ‘the role of the Histradut in maintaining the apartheid policies of the Israeli state and its consistent failure to oppose the Occupation.’ But as Dianne Langford, who clearly has both the ear of the EC and also a list of Branch Co-ordinators to whom she sent her e-mail, put it, all this was ‘unnecessary.’
Indeed it was the Irish Congress of Trade Unions that led the way in breaking relations with Histadrut. The Scottish TUC and my own union UNISON, after having had resolutions calling for breaking the links with Histadrut submitted, which followed this up with a call for a ‘review’ of relations with Histadrut. But this is just one example of the Executive’s rewriting of history.
Another example was the enormously successful Viva Palestina convoy which broke the siege of Gaza in February. At that time PSC nationally was extremely lukewarm to the idea, as they are to all independent initiatives. Now they are participating enthusiastically and indeed taking charge. Why? Because in that time Socialist Action have entered Respect Renewal, whose leader, George Galloway MP, has been instrumental in the convoy.
Formally the letter to PSC Executive from 13 members appeared nowhere on the agenda but in practice it appeared throughout the afternoon. The Executive in the form of Betty Hunter were left without any credible explanation for how it is that the last 3 appointed staff members were all Socialist Action members or close supporters. They also gave the impression of bad faith and worse in causing the resignation of two Executive members. This didn’t of course prevent the virulent and personal abuse of their supporters, in particular EC member Hilary Wise, who declared that it was a lie to say she had been a member of the International Marxist Group. In fact I am quite prepared to apologise for suggesting that she was ever a Marxist or socialist. I just hope that the accusation doesn’t cause any permanent social embarrassment.
At one point Hilary seemed so worked up that she was in danger of blowing a fuse. For example I was attacked as a ‘wrecker’, which is the traditional accusation of the right against dissidents. Given that two of the signatories, including myself, were co-founders of PSC, it is a strange piece of wrecking!
Bearing in mind SA has no public presence, doesn’t declare itself as even existing, it was quite something to get an admission that 2 of the last 3 staff appointees were SA members. They denied that the third, Ruqayyah Collector, who has student and campaigning responsibilities, is a member. Ruqayyah was a member of NUS Executive, the Black student officer, and the most prominent member of Student Broad Left, which is an acknowledged front for Socialist Action (well acknowledged by everyone but them!). As one report put it:
In 2008, Student Broad Left have had mixed fortunes. During the 2008 NUS Annual Conference, Student Broad Left formed a slate with Student Respect putting forward Ruqayyah Collector, current NUS Black Students Officer, as candidate for NUS National President. Bryony Shanks was put forward as candidate for NUS National Treasurer and the part-time Block of Twelve. Neither Ruqayyah Collector or Bryony Shanks were elected.Other reports include 1 2. There are many more.
Bryoni Shanks is now the student officer for PSC. At a time when Student Broad Left is in total crisis, having lost their sole Executive member and alliance with the SWP, PSC has become a place of retreat. But all Betty’s assurances that equal opportunities policies etc. were followed failed to answer how it is that such a tiny organisation, with 100 members at most, has such overrepresentation on PSC Executive and amongst its staff. As I explained, it is extremely easy given the subjective nature of any appointment process for a preferred candidate to be marked higher than the rest.
But maybe what was most surprising was that the resignation of the Vice-Chair of PSC Kammal Hawwash and EC member Zoe Mars wasn’t even reported. It was only with the greatest difficulty that either of them were able to address the meeting, something Betty Hunter was clearly unhappy about. Kammal made a very dignified and moving speech, which Betty tried to interrupt at one point, about how he had wanted the PSC Executive response to the letter discussed at the Executive meeting of 5th September before being sent out, since he was unhappy with Betty’s response. He made it clear that he was taking no position on the issues raised but that he didn’t want a response to be rushed out. He was ignored and therefore felt he had no option to resign because, as he stressed, he had been treated with disrespect. The only excuse offered by Betty was that the matter was urgent (why?), that those who had written the letter had wanted a speedy reply (they hadn’t) and that although the majority of those contacted had not replied there was a majority among those who had replied in favour of it. Yet why this was an emergency that demanded that the EC respond before it could meet to discuss this was never explained.
Likewise Zoe Mars, when she managed to get to speak, made a strong speech, the gist of which was that she resigned because of the treatment accorded Kammal and was likewise unhappy about a response to the letter being rushed out without proper discussion. And regarding the first point in the letter sent to the Executive, what she objected to regarding the e-mail that Bernard Regan sent to his selected list before the last AGM was that it stated quite clearly that they should not vote for those not on his slate, as they would be damaging to PSC:
There is an opposition within PSC which I firmly believe would take us well away from these objectives. I urge you to come and if you are able to encourage others then please do so.It was the fact that what was being introduced was negative campaigning that was important. The response of Betty Hunter was, well, lacklustre. And more to the point she was not prepared to offer an apology to Kammal for how she had treated him. It was therefore left up to a representative from a branch to move that both Kammal and Zoe be asked to reconsider their resignations, which I hope they do, and in the absence of any apology from the EC a collective apology from the branches was given instead.
Terry Gallogy from York asked why it was that none of the 3 vacant positions on the EC had been filled, when that is the normal practice when someone leaves or resigns. Again Betty struggled to give an answer, apart from asking people to understand what it must have been like when the EC got the letter from 13 members. But she didn’t explain why it was such a problem if the contents of the letter were false as she and her supporters maintained? Needless to say this wasn’t an entirely convincing explanation and in the end she admitted that because of their political role in PSC, and the first vacancy, when Sara Colborne left the Chair was well before the letter that was sent on 9th August, the positions were left unfilled rather than allowing what they see as dissidents to fill them.
At the end of the meeting, when unfortunately many people were leaving or had left, so few people actually listened, Dianne Langford, who penned the letter referred to in a previous article declared that the real question was one of ‘self determination’ and of course those of us who criticised ‘quislings’ didn’t accept Palestinian self-determination. It is a pity that few people actually listened to this contribution or that there was a debate because in many ways this lies at the heart of many of the issues. Since abandoning class and socialist politics, Socialist Action and their supporters give uncritical support to any one who claims to lead a national liberation movement. So Mahmoud Abbas is also someone we should support, as is the Palestinian Authority.
The only problem with this is that the security forces of the PA are trained by General Dayton of the US army in Jordan under Mohammed Dahlan and they are not being trained in order that they can evict Israel from the West Bank! Their sole purpose is internal repression and silencing any opposition to Israel’s occupation as Vanity Fair’s article ‘Abbas, Dahlan conspired with Israel, US, to topple Hamas’ in March 2008 details.
Likewise the appointment of the IMF and World Bank’s man as Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. is part of the same process. As Time Magazine on February 7th 2009 reported, when Israel began its bombardment and invasion of Gaza in December:
‘Abbas' behavior during the conflict, when he tried to score points against Hamas instead of rallying support against Israel's assault, has shrunk his already low credibility among Palestinians and the Arab world. At the start of Israel's offensive, one of Abbas' top aides said Hamas was "110 per cent" to blame for the Gaza attack — an unpopular, if not suicidal, stance among Palestinians, whose ire was directed at Israel. Even as the civilian death toll climbed, Abbas delayed several days before criticizing the Israeli offensive. In the West Bank, which Abbas controls by dint of the presence of the Israeli army, his security forces cracked down brutally on fellow Palestinians protesting the Israeli offensive.’If anyone has any better adjective than quisling then I’d be grateful to know what it is!
What type of organisation should PSC be?
But the example above demonstrates above all that the real question at the heart of the present disagreement is not the antics of Socialist Action but what are the political consequences of this. What kind of organisation is PSC going to be? One of the problems is that there is very little debate within PSC on these issues. Debate is seen as divisive and a threat by the Executive. Activism is essential but in itself it is not enough. PSC has to have some sense of direction. The position of the Palestinians is extremely weak. They are themselves divided into the West Bank and Gaza and between those living under occupation, in Israel and the diaspora. The Arab regimes make no pretence of supporting the Palestinians and Israel, as a consequence of the disastrous Oslo Accords which the present Executive still effectively supports has been to strengthen Israel enormously at the expense of the Palestinians.
Debates about 1 v 2 States have bypassed PSC almost entirely. The obvious question that arises is if we support a two state solution then that must include Israel as it is presently constituted, i.e. a racist Jewish state.
So when I raised the issue of a General Strike that has been called by Israeli Arabs for October 1st because of the horrendous attacks on them, this went down like a lead balloon with EC members. Certainly very few present were even aware of what is happening and the Executive hasn’t used the members’ bulletin to inform people. But this is quite unique in the history of those Arabs who were not expelled from Israel in 1947-8 or subsequently. Likewise there has been little done in the wake of Lieberman’s election as Foreign Minister. Yet this throws up an important question. If a Palestinian statelet were created in the pockets of the West Bank that are not at present populated by settlers, then it is clear that this is going to create a possibly unstoppable move within Israel to ‘encourage’ its Arab citizens to move into it. There is a growing consensus on this issue in Israel yet at the moment it is the elephant in the room for PSC.
Nor is there great clarity about whether we are calling on people to boycott simply settlement produce or any Israeli product. Communication in PSC is vertical, from the Executive down, and not between branches and members. Hence why PSC Executive is reluctant to implement the clauses in the Constitution providing for regional representation.
The Branch Forum itself displayed many of these features. Some people saw the letter as being a diversion from the work of Palestine solidarity and yet at the same time were unhappy, to put it mildly, by some of the issues that were raised and the secretive and manipulative way that the Executive was dealing with them, not least in hiding behind the very staff members that they had put into position by stating that raising the issue was somehow an attack on the staff individually, which it is not. One of the strongest arguments from an Oxford member was that this would play into the hands of the Zionists. This is a powerful argument but in fact it isn’t true.
An effective solidarity movement, which for example raised the attempts to criminalise support for the Palestinians as anti-Semitic would be a far greater threat to them. There has been a widespread debate over the EU Monitoring Committees definition of what constitutes ‘anti-Semitism’ which effectively puts an equal sign between anti-Zionist and anti-Semitism. This has enormous implications as we are seeing with the arrest for racially aggravated trespass of 5 members of Scottish PSC. This too was not on the agenda or mentioned. It is ‘too difficult’ for EC members to deal with. Instead it is left to Scottish PSC and Jewish anti-Zionists to deal with even though it can and does lead to supporters of the Palestinians being attacked by the Police as happened on the Brighton demonstration against the Lebanon invasion 3 years ago.
In fact this is really a form of blackmail, which Betty Hunter engaged in quite openly by stating that the notoriously racist and anti-Islamic site, Harry’s Place, had already covered the issue of the letter to PSC Executive. I won’t link to it but it has. Having looked at it is clear that the main gist of their article was a personal attack on me! But since when does PSC decide what it can and can’t discuss on the basis of Harry’s Place?
A PSC which engages in routine demonstrations and marches and the lobbying of Parliament so loved by the EC is far less of a threat because what it is doing is going through the motions. The Histadrut affair demonstrated that the Executive is afraid to raise issues with the unions which might jeopardise their affiliations, yet a failure to do so renders an affiliation meaningless.
In any case, the Zionists have never been reluctant to engage in open public disputes when they felt it warranted. They have never suffered any political damage as a result, on the contrary a democratic PSC is a strength not a weakness. When the British JNF and the Israeli JNF were locked in a long legal battle at the High Court over who owned which stolen land it did them no harm. And likewise with PSC.
The questions which we asked PSC Executive remain unanswered because they are incapable of answering them truthfully. By admitting that one small and extremely secretive political faction has obtained a stranglehold over PSC administratively and politically then it would raise other issues such as how this has been allowed to happen. It might explain why having a parliamentary officer is more important than a Branch Development Worker which I proposed. One of the ideas that Betty Hunter put forward re students was a new web site. Now no one is opposed to web sites but the student occupations in January weren’t the result of web sites (though they produced some excellent ones) but of a feeling of anger, not least that NUS Executive had toed the Zionist line. We need a Student Officer to match the full-timers that the Union of Jewish Students has at its disposal. The result of no PSC work in the student movement was that PSC was almost completely absent from what happened when colleges when into occupation. And it doesn’t even attempt to intervene effectively at NUS nationally or indeed to have a programme of freshers’ stalls and actively creating new Palestine societies in colleges which don’t have them.
And that is why the campaign to democratise PSC will continue. I made a few suggestions for the electoral regulations: No slates. People stand on their own records. That people declare what political party or organisation they are members of in order that people can make an informed choice. And in regard to the fact that some attendees at PSC Conference, who may not be individual members, can vote 3 times because they are union representatives. I suggested one person, one vote. If a union can’t send 3 people to PSC’s AGM then there must be something wrong. Naturally these went down with the EC members present and their supporters like a lead balloon. They were ‘impracticable’. Maybe. One can’t force someone to declare their allegiances but there will be a strong moral compulsion on them to be honest.
And also that it is not up to the EC to decide who and if to replace if there is an EC vacancy. It should be, as a matter of course, the runner-up.
The EC’s intention at the Branch Forum was to close down the debate over what has been happening. Its effect has been the opposite.