Before I get going, I should declare a personal interest. Many moons ago, whilst holding the post of Convenor of Stewards at a very large hospital, I recommended that the portering staff should shift their union membership from the GMB to that of NUPE (now Unison) in order to create a more unified trade union presence. We put the issue to the vote and the porters unanimously approved the recommendation. And then all hell broke loose. The GMB threatened NUPE and me in particular with hell, fire and damnation. They even threatened to invoke the Bridlington agreement. NUPE stood their ground and eventually the wounded GMB officials crawled back into their respective  holes,

though I guess, in retrospect, they were only trying to protect ‘their patch’.

Enough of that. Moving on to the main agenda, I can’t help but thinking, based on a string of recent media pronouncements, that the GMB’s current leadership is a thoroughly reactionary bunch. In a short space of time this lot has come out in support of Trident renewal, fracking and the Hinckley Point nuclear reactor. And all in the name of protecting British Jobs. And it came as no surprise that they are also backing a third runway at Heathrow. I’m seriously starting to think that this erstwhile trade union is a paid up member of the Tory Party. OK, I get the bit about jobs, but surely somewhere along the line long-term principles must trump short term gain.

Anyway, the jobs argument looks rather flimsy when you take a serious look at these big infrastructure decisions. Shifting subsidies from air to rail and then expanding the rail network will create far, far more jobs than an expanded Heathrow Airport and without the devastating environmental effects. Has the GMB not heard of catastrophic global warming and the Paris Agreement to hold warming to below 2 degrees? It seems not. It’s the same story with fracking. Irrespective of the safety concerns which have yet to be resolved, fracking is still all about fossil fuels. You would think that any responsible trade union ought to be heavily promoting renewables, which again will create more home grown jobs than the fracking industry, but not the GMB.

 As for Hinckley Point, is there anyone out there, on either side of the political divide, that actually thinks this is a value for money project. Only the GMB and George Osbourne it seems. Poor old PM May got stuck with a right lemon and she was damned either way she went. I almost feel sorry for her. But the GMB should have taken a principled stand and at the very least called for a total renegotiation of the entire deal. But no, short term gain was their only response.

Finally, we come to Trident. I would like to ask the GMB leadership just which workers they would consider obliterating in the interests of their cherished British workforce? Would they be prepared to press the nuclear button and risk global Armageddon in the interests of preserving a few thousand British jobs? Have they lost all sense of international solidarity? Or perhaps they never had it to lose.

And so I return to my opening paragraph. During my tenure as Shop Steward convenor, it was both my pleasure and my deep frustration to try and attempt to get the night shift porters out on strike with the rest of the hospital workforce. I used to love going in at midnight to talk to those guys, all of whom were Black Caribbean workers and all who had extremely negative experiences of the British Trade Union movement. We would happily talk at length about the crimes and misdemeanours of US and British governments both in the Caribbean and around the world generally. I considered their political internationalism to be exemplary and way in advance to most of their day shift colleagues. But try as I might, they simply would not support any trade union action. When I begged them to tell me why, they were jack blunt. Their experience of British trade unions was one of blatant and consistent racism over decades, and they would have nothing to do with trade unions, ever. And who was their trade union for all those years? The GMB of course!

Now I don’t suppose the GMB is alone amongst trade unions who put their immediate interests above the common good. And the GMB is definitely not alone in having a dubious past when it comes to racial equality. But, leaving the past aside for the moment, their current track record is starting to look consistently reactionary. In fact, they are starting to remind me of a certain electrician’s union leadership portrayed in the memorable and now highly topical ‘A Very British Coup’. Of course that similarity is, I’m sure, nothing but an uncomfortable and unfortunate coincidence.     

End JPK Copyright, 30/9/16

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