The following article first posted by Tony Greenstein outlined the hypocrtical stance of the GMB leadership over its attitude to racism, and its consistent backing for Labour’s right wing.
THERE IS ONLY ONE FORM OF RACISM THAT THE GMB OPPOSES – ‘ANTISEMITISM’ – IN OTHER WORDS ISRAELI APARTHEID
The first time I became aware of the GMB, then the General and Municipal Workers Union, was when I was a young activist in 1970 during the Pilkington’s strike. Pilkingtons manufactured glass in St Helens, a town near Liverpool. The workers went on unofficial strike and the GMWU led by Lord Cooper did its best, in conjunction with the management, to break the strike.
The official who presided over that act of scabbing was future General Secretary David Basnett. The determination of the strikers who stayed out for 6 weeks without strike pay was a wonder to behold. The GMB has not changed fundamentally since then.
I was Secretary of the nearby Brighton and Hove Unemployed Workers Centre and we and our volunteers were called upon by Smith to help the workers win their dispute. We loaned them our computer equipment and our activists helped out for example by lying down on the road and locking on to stop the Council’s attempts to break the strike with scab lorries.
The workers won their dispute and as a result the privatisation of refuse collection was ended. SITA were removed and the refuse collection was brought in-house. In other words privatisation was reversed – something which was pretty unique at the time.
Smith struck me as an ambitious official. Although he ably supported the strike and occupation he had no wider socialist politics and one can see that today. He is a union bureaucrat who has no criticism of Starmer or the Labour Right. He would be happy to return to the days of New Labour. He hasn’t the foresight or acumen to see that Starmer would be a disaster for workers and all those who are living under a neo-liberal government determined to remove workers’ rights. He has no vision beyond his own perks and privileges.
The GMB is and always has been a bastion of the Right in the Labour Party. Often little more than a company union it is an unflinching supporter of capitalism within the labour movement. The ideas of workers’ control are alien to it. The GMB has adopted the short-termism of capitalism, with its inability to recognise that the world we live in is being destroyed by the scramble for profit. The GMB supports Trident, nuclear power and fracking.
The GMB and racism
The GMB is also the most racist, sexist and corrupt union with unelected Regional Barons, all men, and a General Secretary who is often not even elected (opponents were prevented from standing by setting the number of branch nominations artificially high).
The GMB has never been to the fore, or indeed involved, in any anti-racist campaigns that involved Black or Asian members of its workforce. As a largely White union it was completely absent from anti-fascist campaigns against groups like the National Front and BNP in the 70s and 80s and from campaigns against state racism.
There are hardly any articles on its website on racism. Just one article on the launch of its race strand, one article on the Grenfell fire despite the involvement of its own members as emergency responders and one article on Black Lives Matter. All of them dated.
There is absolutely nothing about the participation of the GMB union or its members in anti-racist struggles or campaigns. The GMB has been conspicuous by its absence from campaigns such as that of Stephen Lawrence.
The same is true of international issues. On Palestine there is one article welcoming a Supreme Court decision that went in favour of the right of pension funds to boycott unethical investments and a statement on Western Sahara and Palestine. That is it.
There is nothing on BDS, nothing criticising Israeli Apartheid, nothing about the union giving concrete support to the Palestinians such as sending delegations to Palestine besides a token affiliation to Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
However there is one form of ‘racism’ that the GMB is most concerned about. Yes that’s right – ‘anti-Semitism’. The very same ‘anti-Semitism’ that Labour’s Forde Report has conceded was weaponised against supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and the left.
So concerned about non-existent ‘anti-Semitism’ are the GMB that they hosted ‘the first-ever antisemitism education training for GMB members at Congress’. About other forms of racism? Nothing.
And who did they host it with? The Jewish Labour Movement, the British wing of the racist Israeli Labor Party. It’s like hosting a seminar on care for the elderly with Harold Shipman as the main guest or a conference on fighting fascism with Nick Griffin.
The Israeli Labor Party formed the government of Israel from 1948-1977. In 1948 they massacred and expelled ¾ million Palestinian refugees and for 18 of those years kept Israeli Arabs under military rule, confined to their villages whilst confiscating most of their land. 93% of Israel was barred to them. It was the ILP that began the colonisation of the West Bank. This is the party that the JLM calls its ‘sister party’.
The ILP’s former leader Isaac Herzog, now Israel’s President, declared that his nightmare was waking up to find that Israel had a Palestinian Prime Minister and 61 Palestinian Members of Israel’s Knesset. Herzog declared that he wanted to dispel the impression that the ILP were ‘Arab Lovers’.
Imagine that someone were to say that their fear was that Britain might have a Jewish Prime Minister or that the Labour Party was not a ‘Jew lovers’ party. The term ‘Jew lover’ and ‘Nigger lover’ used to be part of the language of the National Front but in a ‘Jewish’ state such language is common.
Herzog responded to Netanyahu’s attempt to expel Black African refugees from Israel, whose only crime was being Black and not Jewish, by criticising him for not being tough enough! Herzog argued that Eritreans in Israel were not refugees but ‘infiltrators’ (it is what the Palestinian refugees used to be called in 1948 onwards, despite them being the indigenous population).
In September 2015, the ILP complained that Netanyahu’s government has not done enough to expel African refugees. Herzog’s Labor Party adopted the far-right’s propaganda points, insisting that most refugees in Israel have no valid claim to refugee status.
“If only Bibi’s government had created immigration laws, it would be possible to send back to their country those who are in Israel for their welfare and for work. But the Likud government is only good at talking, and it is responsible for the troubles of the residents of south Tel Aviv.”
In 2017 the ILP led a successful effort to abolish the Knesset’s committee on foreign workers, one of the few forums in which the concerns of refugees could receive a hearing in parliament.
Today the ILP and its 7 MKs are in government with Israel’s far-right. Labour’s Security Minister Omar Barlev, gave last May permission for thousands of settlers to march through Arab East Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day, in an assertion of Jewish supremacy. This was the same as the Loyalist marches in Catholic areas of Northern Ireland. What followed was a veritable pogrom. Hundreds of Palestinians were attacked by mobs chanting ‘death to the Arabs’. It was not as if Barlev had not been warned.
The liberal Ha’aretz, in an Editorial was scathing.
Bar-Lev decided that the defiant nationalist Flag March in Jerusalem will once again pass through Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter. Thus he has proven not only the weakness of his stand, but also that he sees himself as public security minister for Jews only. The fate of the Palestinians, their well-being, security and dignity, interests him not at all; he permits them to be trampled on, and perhaps even encourages it.
From Bar-Lev’s point of view, there are no residents in Jerusalem except the Jews for whose well-being he is responsible.
This is the JLM’s ‘sister party’. For the GMB to ally itself with the JLM is an endorsement of Israel’s racist treatment of the Palestinians and makes itself complicit in that treatment.
The JLM, formerly Poale Zion, has never been interested in fighting genuine anti-Semitism. In the 1930s when anti-Semitism was at its height in Britain, with Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists regularly attacking Britain’s Jews, over 200,000 workers took to the streets of the East End to stop the fascists marching through the East End in what became known as the Battle of Cable Street.
The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Chronicle told Jews to stay at home and avoid the fascists. Britain’s Zionists were opposed to any physical confrontation. Poale Zion played no part in the mobilisation against the fascists because it was a right-wing middle class affiliate of the Labour Party. Jewish workers supported the Communist Party or Independent Labour Party. They were not Zionists.
Exactly the same happened in the 1970s with the National Front. The Zionists played no part in opposing them. The only ‘anti-Semitism’ that the Board and the JLM are concerned about is opposition to Israel and Zionism. The GMB’s racist leadership are fully aware of this.
The Zionist movement has never fought anti-Semitism. The Zionist movement was formed because it rejected the fight against anti-Semitism which they saw as inherent in every Gentile. As Theodor Herzl, its founder, wrote in his Diaries during the Dreyfus Affair:
In Paris… I achieved a freer attitude towards anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all, I recognise the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti-Semitism.
So when the GMB say they are partnering with the JLM what they are really doing is partnering with Apartheid. They are not ‘stamping out anti-Semitism’ as they claim but stabbing Palestinians in the back.
In the past year virtually all human rights organisations – Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, Harvard Human Rights Clinic and the UN’s Special Rapporteur have said that Israel is an apartheid, Jewish supremacist state. The evidence is overwhelming yet GMB apparatchiks see no problem in working with these racists on Labour’s Right whilst also claiming to support the Palestinians.
It is well known that you can’t run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Yet the corrupt bureaucrats of the GMB’s London Region believe you can lie down with the supporters of Israeli Apartheid and still claim to support the Palestinians. They are encouraged in this by Palestine Solidarity Campaign, to which the GMB is affiliated, which will not issue one word of criticism of the GMB’s duplicity.
GMB officers are notorious for their stupidity but even the stupidest bureaucrat should realise that ‘anti-Semitism’ in the Labour Party was confected. There was no such phenomenon. The fact that Starmer’s fight against ‘anti-Semitism’ has resulted in Jews being expelled from Labour at 5 times the rate of non-Jews should surely make it clear to even the dimmest official that the issue was always Israel not Jews.
The GMB’s London Region declared that anti-Semites should face the ‘full force of the law’ but has nothing to say about the Windrush deportations, attacks on Mosques, Islamaphobia, the Rwandan Scheme, deaths in police custody etc. But when it comes to the most privileged and prosperous section of the White community, Jews, the GMB suddenly becomes anti-racist. This is in itself a demonstration of the racism running through the GMB.
British Jews do not experience anti-Semitism except as prejudice. There is no state anti-Semitism. There is no offence of ‘driving whilst Jewish’ whereas Black drivers get regularly stopped. There was no Jewish Windrush Scandal or a Jewish Stephen Lawrence. It is mosques like Finsbury Park, not synagogues, which are attacked. That is why anti-Semitism is confected and why Tory racists like Boris ‘watermelon smiles’ Johnson included, are happy to condemn ‘anti-Semitism’, when it relates to Israel, even whilst they harbour anti-Semitic sentiments.
In May 2021 there was a small pro-Israel demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy. Who turned up? British fascist, Tommy Robinson. Even the most stupid GMB bureaucrat, even Gary Smith, should be able to understand that it is the anti-Semitic far-Right who are Israel’s most vociferous supporters and ask themselves why that is the case.
The same is true in the United States. The organiser of the Charlottesville demonstration and founder of the alt-Right, neo-Nazi Richard Spencer describes himself as a White Zionist. Donald Trump, the most pro-Israeli President there has ever been was also anti-Semitic telling Jews that Israel was their ‘real home’.
Historically anti-Semites, the Nazis included, loved Zionism because it helped rid them of the Jews in their midst. And the Zionists reciprocated.
The JLM has never fought or opposed genuine anti-Semitism. It only seeks to equate anti-Zionism and support for the Palestinians with anti-Semitism. It tried to outlaw using the word ‘Zionist’ saying it was an abusive term. Perhaps we should refrain from using the term ‘racist’ in case it offends racists?
Mike Katz, Chair of the JLM declared that under Gary Smith,
the GMB practice what they preach. It was a privilege to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our trade union allies who are committed to fighting antisemitism.
Whatever Gary Smith and the GMB have been fighting it’s not anti-Semitism. It is the conflation of anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. It was no accident that when Smith, formerly Scottish Regional Secretary was elected, the Labour right cheered the result.
In June 2021 Smith succeeded Tim Roache, who resigned after a series of allegations of sexual assault, including rape, were made against him. All of which he denied. Roache resigned on grounds of ‘ill health’. The seriousness of the allegations made against Roache and others, resulted in an Inquiry under Karon Monaghan QC. It reported on 31 August 2020 and it made grim reading. It found that:
- The GMB is institutionally sexist.
- The General Secretaries and all regional secretaries are, and always have been, men and women* are underrepresented throughout the GMB’s senior ranks.
- There is significant job segregation at regional level, with officer grades disproportionately filled by men and staff grades disproportionately filled by women.
- Branches are male dominated with limited female participation, and are often organised in a way that deters women members’ participation.
‘The immediate trigger for the investigation was the receipt of an undated letter sent to Barbara Plant, the President of the GMB. The letter contained allegations of a “serious sexual assault (rape)”, drug use and sexually predatory behaviour, by a senior man within the GMB. The letter also alleged that a number of named people were aware of the incident (the alleged rape) and those included senior members of staff.’ [Introduction s.3]
‘fear as to what might happen if identities were disclosed. Those concerns were not fanciful…. the culture of bullying and victimisation in the GMB is such that I am satisfied the concerns were well founded.” [s.6]
The litany of faults were almost endless. No complaints procedures existed other than complaining to the branch and often the person against whom the complaint was being made with the result that the favourite way of dealing with a complaint was ‘by moving people or shuffling them out.’ In other words the complainant was the one who was punished. (s.107). Cronyism was also a major problem in the GMB as Gary Smith can testify.
‘I heard much evidence of cronyism, including from some of those who had benefitted from it but also from those who suffered in consequence of it. The examples I heard about concerned the placing of, mainly, men into posts that were either created for them or not advertised. This way of recruitment operates as a “reward” for good behaviour, as it is perceived, while ensuring that those who do not toe the line are excluded from senior posts. (s.113)
I was also contacted by a number of people from Black and minority ethnic groups. They recognised that this investigation is concerned with sexual harassment but wanted to draw to my attention the very real and serious problems that exist for members and employees from Black and minority ethnic groups. Having read written communications and spoken to some who contacted me, I am satisfied that the GMB is not a comfortable place to be for many employees and members from Black and minority ethnic groups. Many of the cultural facets of the GMB that I have described above deter employees and members from Black and minority ethnic groups from participating in GMB work, and when they do, at functions for example, the environment can seem hostile or at least unwelcoming. The GMB needs to address its culture more broadly if it wants to be an inclusive union as its aims declare. At the moment it is “white, male and stale”.
Monaghan linked the failings around sexual harassment to the GMB’s bureaucratic structures. She singled out the role of exclusively male regional secretaries “who hold the real power, along with the general secretary.” (s.59)
Smith was the GMB’s Scottish regional secretary. After his election he said he would work for the full implementation of the Monaghan report. An article in Labour List of April 2021 reported that
Women working at the GMB trade union,… have lodged a formal dispute with the organisation as they say grievances are not being heard fairly, LabourList can reveal….
The leadership is now being accused by GMB activists and employees of “blindness” to the findings, with several sources saying the internal problems have become “worse” since the report by Karon Monaghan QC was published in September 2020.
The article also revealed that Gary Smith, who wasn’t then in office, ‘has been the subject of bullying complaints but is nonetheless in the running for the union’s top job.’ In other words, having been forced to commission the Monaghan Report the GMB’s officials were equally determined to ignore it. And under Smith they have.
Selling out its members and Scabbing on them
In April 2021 British Gas decided to fire and rehire its engineers. This was a major challenge, not just to the workers concerned, but to the working class as a whole. It began a new offensive of the employers.
The workers involved went on strike for 44 days but instead of taking up the cudgels and extending the dispute and fighting with determination the GMB officials did their best to end the dispute with minimum concessions by the employer.
In Former British Gas workers angry at GMB union for ‘rolling over’ as dispute ends one worker claimed that
“The damage is done. Morale at British Gas is at an all time low. Nobody wants to be there and the one institution —the GMB—that engineers thought they could rely on has rolled over with management.
“Why is it I pay my union fees again?”
Paul, another British Gas engineer, wrote,
I find this statement disgraceful. Claiming this is some kind of victory is an insult to our members who were out in all weather’s on the picket line and to those sacked in April. This wasn’t a victory—it was a crushing defeat.
A win in the British Gas dispute would have been a victory for the whole working class. But the union’s useless leadership was more concerned with protecting its own privileges. The GMB acts as a bosses union.
The Guardian reported that Hundreds of British Gas engineers to lose jobs in ‘fire and rehire’ scheme. This was a deal concocted by GMB bureaucrats and imposed on the membership which accepted it under union pressure. The GMB tried to spin it as GMB members back improved pay deal.
But as the World Socialist Web Site reported GMB union complicit in imposing British Gas fire and rehire contracts
The resort to dictatorial methods by the company has not been enough by itself to intimidate workers. British Gas relies on the collusion of the GMB against its own members. The union’s response to the issuing of the dismissal notices on March 25 was to advise strikers in an email, weeks beforehand, that they had no other option than to sign.
The union is solely responsible for the division this has created among the striking engineers whose action had been solid up to this point. The company now boasts that 95 percent have signed the new contract. Whether this is true cannot be verified. Despite the treachery of the GMB, hundreds of engineers, and according to one source up to 1,000 workers, have refused to sign.
Workers in Deliveroo have long been fighting for union rights with the IWGB Union. When things got too hot for Deliveroo they signed a sweetheart deal with the GMB. As The Canary reported
A notorious food delivery company has just signed a deal with an equally contentious trade union. It reeks of corporate capitalist cronyism. And, it looks set to completely undermine workers’ rights – despite what both parties are claiming…. Now, its deal with Deliveroo cements the union’s status as a scabbing, right-wing, bosses’ Trojan horse.
On Twitter the GMB announced on May 12 2022 that it had reached a new joint agreement with Deliveroo over the head of its workers. The accompanying video was a nauseating piece of PR. It stated:
‘If the GMB is working “together” with Deliveroo – then who is the union “standing up for”? What exactly do they think riders care about? It could be they care about inflation that keeps making their slave wages worth even less?
The IWGB Union, which is a genuine union, was fuming. It said:
Deliveroo… has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds fighting the IWGB in court to prevent collective bargaining with its riders. Deliveroo has always claimed that collective bargaining would come at the cost of flexible working, but this partnership proves that this has always been a lie to scare workers away from unionising. Now as we appeal our collective bargaining case to the Supreme Court, Deliveroo has cynically made this backroom deal with the GMB, which has no record of organising couriers and presents no threat to their exploitative business practices, to protect itself in the event that it loses at the final stage.
The GMB has scabbed on another union and its workers. As far back as 1944, Marxists were moaning about how Labour’s trade unions were effectively working for the bosses. As George Padmore wrote:
because the ideology of the ruling-class has permeated the Labour Movement and corrupted influential sections of the leadership…Trade Union leaders have become… closely tied with Monopoly-Capitalists.
Smith was reported by Sky as saying that Starmer must use Labour’s party conference to show nation he ‘has what it takes’ to be prime minister. Smith had given his support to Starmer’s plans to change the party’s rules for electing future leaders.
Smith had nothing about changing a system where wealth flows upwards to the multi nationals and the utility companies and those who are already rich. The GMB has nothing to say about capitalism or class inequalities or poverty. Its only concern was to ensure that the Labour Party never again had a socialist leader and to protect corrupt and rotten right-wing MPs.
The GMB is a ‘non-political’ union which is signed up to British capitalism and imperialism and that explains why the only form of racism that concerns it is ‘anti-Semitism’, the ritual cry of those who defend Israeli Apartheid.
Other trade unions, like the TSSA and CWU, opposed Starmer’s proposals, which would have handed power back to MPs and deprived ordinary trade unionists and Labour Party members of any say.
Smith ‘signalled he recognised the need for changes.’ As Sky noted, Smith ‘is one of the most sympathetic union leaders to the Labour leadership’.
Smith also said that the Labour leader was “decent” and “committed”. I have heard other descriptions but being a family blog I dare not print them. However I would refer people who are uncertain to watch the video where Audrey White tells Starmer in Liverpool that he is a liar who is ‘no better than a Tory’. It’s not the kind of thing Smith would tell him as he is a sycophant to those in power.
Smith demonstrated just how much of a tin ear he and the GMB leadership has when he rejected the idea that the UK needed to become carbon neutral by 2030. As Britain becomes hotter and hotter and as global warming takes effect this neanderthal, in an echo of Trump’s climate denial could only say that
“I think a lot of the debate around energy and the environment has been fundamentally dishonest. The energy market is broken, energy is very complex, and I don’t think politicians have entirely grasped that. We have a national security issue unfolding around energy, around security supplies.
In other words he is committed to empty flag waving patriotism which ties Britain to US warmongering. The GMB is a fervent supporter of Trident and Britain’s ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent on the grounds that its members would lose their jobs.
One of the endearing characteristics of people like Smith is that they cannot envisage anything other than disaster capitalism which is destroying the world. They have no vision of an alternative way of ordering the world but dog eat dog capitalism.
The fact that the billions spent on Trident could create far more useful jobs for people such as insulating every house in Britain to conserve energy or developing carbon capture for coal has never even occurred to him and the GMB’s blinkered leadership.
In Sexism and corruption in the GMB: We need a member-led union Socialist Appeal said:
‘We need a union that is run democratically; which respects the dignity of its members and of workers in general; where no one is discriminated against; where no one is intimidated for defending socialist ideas. But to achieve this, much bolder measures are required than those suggested in Monaghan’s report.
To guarantee a real change in the union; to transform the GMB into a democratic and fighting union, we must demand:
- A member-led union, instead of having an out-of-control officialdom lording it over the membership.
These is election and recall of all officials;
- Officials take the average wage of the members they are supposed to represent.
What happens in a right-wing ‘non-political’ right-wing union is that its officials see defending their own perks and privileges as more important than defending their members.
You get a good idea of what GMB democracy is about from So, farewell Tim Roache, an open letter from a GMB member in Glasgow to retiring General Secretary Tim Roache:
First elected GMB General Secretary in 2015, in an election in which just 4.2% of the membership participated, you romped home with a mandate from precisely 2.2% of the membership.
A big step forward from the 2010 General Secretary election (zero turnout – only one candidate) and the 2006 General Secretary election (zero turnout – only one candidate).
At first sight, though, a big step backwards from the 2003 General Secretary election, which had a 14% turnout. But, as you’ll remember, the high turnout (by GMB standards) was down to ballot-rigging: 60,000 ballot papers issued to dead, lapsed and retired former members.
(6,000 votes cast by GMB ‘members’ in the AA motoring organisation alone. I never knew the AA workforce was so class-conscious. And, miraculously, thousands of votes from non-existent GMB ‘members’ at the Millenium Dome and clothing factories which had been closed for years.)
As a result, in 2005 Kevin Curran, the then General Secretary, was forced to resign after an investigation into ballot rigging.
Described as a ‘prominent supporter of Gordon Brown’, New Labour’s racist Prime Minister (British Jobs for British Workers – the National Front slogan), Curran was suspended from office for interfering in an inquiry into a voting scam during his election two years previously. The Independent reported that:
Curran was accused of a scam in which possibly thousands of voting forms were sent to “safe houses”, and his backers were also accused of unlawfully using the GMB’s money to fund his campaign.
Mr Curran’s backers allegedly voted for him on behalf of workers who had died, left the union or failed to pay subscriptions. It is claimed that addresses of the “ghost members” were altered so forms were dispatched to houses where Mr Curran’s supporters would fill them in.
It is no wonder therefore that a racist, sexist bosses union should also be a union that has signed up to Zionism and Israeli Apartheid under the guise of fighting ‘anti-Semitism’. If anti-Semitism was a genuine problem in Britain today then the idea that Gary Smith or the GMB would be interested in fighting it would be as absurd as Boris Johnson being interested in telling the truth.
- * The GMB has now appointed Louise Gilmour as acting Scottish secretary.