Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Extremists are poisoning my trade union

As someone who believes that trade unions have a vital role to play in a democratic and pluralistic society, and as an academic, I am a member of the University and College Union (UCU), and was previously a member of its predecessor, the Association of University Teachers (AUT), which merged with another union in 2006 to form the UCU. The UCU/AUT has been responsible for raising the salaries of academic staff such as myself, and I feel that I and other academics should support it. Yet I am becoming increasingly worried that my union is being hijacked by political extremists who are less concerned with defending the salaries and working conditions of its members, and more concerned with promoting an extremist political cause that most of its members do not support. As a non-activist member, I periodically learn from outside sources about steps being taken by union activists to promote this cause, over and above the heads of ordinary members such as myself.

So it was, back in 2005 when I was working at the University of Cambridge, I and other non-activist members learned after the fact that, via its secretary, the Cambridge branch of AUT had voted in favour of an academic boycott of Israeli academics, when the AUT’s national council had voted to implement such a boycott. The secretary in question was a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a viciously anti-Zionist group that supports the destruction of the State of Israel and that has, in recent years, pursued a strategy of alliance with Islamists on a common ‘anti-war’ and ‘anti-imperialist’ platform, involving vocal support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and for the Iraqi ‘insurgents’. The decision of our branch secretary to support the boycott led to a ‘backwoods rebellion’ by non-activist members, who bombarded the branch leadership with complaints, prompting even the SWP-supporting secretary to admit he had been wrong to support the boycott in the absence of a mandate from the membership. At the special branch meeting called to discuss the matter, I and others voted overwhelmingly to overturn the branch’s decision to support the boycott.

The nature of the ‘boycott Israel’ movement requires some explaining. As someone who spent years campaigning against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, and in defence of the national rights of Kosovars, Bosnians and Croatians, it never occurred to me to support an ‘academic boycott’ of Serbian academics – indeed, I collaborated with mainstream Serbian academics while Milosevic was still in power. Likewise, as someone who has written and demonstrated in support of Palestinian national and human rights, I opposed the boycott of Israeli academics. The movement to boycott Israeli academics was the work of extremist left-wing elements, such as the SWP, which view not just Israeli treatment of Palestinians, but Israel and Israelis themselves as illegitimate. Whereas such elements may or may not be prepared to condemn other oppressive regimes in other parts of the world, it is Israel alone that they single out for condemnation not merely for its oppressive actions, but for its very existence and national identity. This racist hostility to Israel forms part of a generalised ‘anti-imperialist’ discourse; the campaign against Israel, ostensibly in support of Palestinian rights, is in reality part of a wider campaign against ‘imperialism’ and ‘globalisation’. UCU activists from the ranks of the SWP and other extremist currents would like to turn our union, from an organisation set up to defend members salaries and working conditions, into a forum for their anti-imperialist and ‘anti-Zionist’ crusade. To learn more about the nature of the boycott movement, see Engage.

Such left-wing extremist elements inevitably find common ground with anti-Semites from the ranks of the Islamists and white supremacists, who share their hatred of Western civilisation and the liberal-democratic world order. So it comes as no surprise to learn that a certain UCU activist, apparently in an attempt to justify support for the boycott of Israeli academics, recently posted a link on the UCU’s mailing list to the website of the US white-supremacist David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Harry’s Place, a blog for which I write periodically, broke the story that the UCU’s mailing list was being used to circulate material from a white-supremacist, anti-Semitic source. In response, the popular, world-famous blog appears to have been shut down after the company with which its domain name is registered was apparently threatened with a libel suit.

I should like to express my complete solidarity with my comrades at Harry’s Place in the face of this attack on their freedom of speech, and to thank them for bringing to my attention these extremely nasty goings on in a union to which I belong. While I completely sympathise with former UCU members such as Eve Garrard, who feel they can no longer belong to a union that behaves in this manner, I fear the consequences of abandoning this and other unions completely into the hands of the extremists; unions are a vital part of our democracy. Yet there is undoubtedly a structural problem, which is that extremists are likely to be those who will devote the energy to infiltrating and hijacking unions, giving them a voice within the union movement out of all proportion to their actual popularity among the members. Ordinary union-members should take note: a union run by extremists will not be a proper defender of their interests. Union activists should take note: a union promoting unpopular extremist causes will lose members and cease to be effective or credible as a union. It is time to put a stop to this violation of our union.

For more on the attack on Harry’s Place, see Modernity, Engage, Bob from Brockley, Max Dunbar, Cafe Turco, Flesh is Grass and Ignoblus. See also Harry’s Place’s response.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008 - Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Israel, Jews, Middle East, Palestine, Political correctness, Racism, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left

4 Comments

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