Unite branch’s ‘shock’ about anti-free speech ban on book and film exposing ‘Labour antisemitism’ scam treated with contempt by union management
A Unite branch’s letter expressing members’ ‘shock and great disappointment’ at the union management’s anti-democratic behaviour has received only a ‘disgraceful’ response providing a rote, ‘off the shelf’ reply from assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail on behalf of Unite boss Sharon Graham.
The Cambridge branch of Unite’s ‘Community’ section wrote to Graham criticising the ban on showing the film ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn/The Big Lie’ and Asa Winstanley’s forensic book ‘Weaponising Anti-Semitism: how the Israel Lobby brought down Jeremy Corbyn’ and expressing members’ anger at the union’s ‘flimsy and artificial’ pretext for the ban. Emphases have been added by Skwawkbox:
Dear Sharon Graham
Ban on use of Unite buildings
The Unite Community Cambridge Branch wish to express our shock and great disappointment that you have banned showing of the film, “Oh Jeremy Corbyn, The Big Lie” and the launch of Asa Winstanley’s book, “Weaponising Anti-Semitism” on Unite premises. These oppressive actions conflict fundamentally with the aims of the trade union movement in general and of Unite in particular. They also conflict with the contract between us as Unite Community members and you as the senior paid representative of our union.
Some reports of these actions that we have seen are:
Ban on showing “Oh Jeremy Corbyn, The Big Lie” from all Unite buildings:
Cancellation of Asa Winstanley’s “Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn” book launch scheduled for 24 July at Tony Benn House in Bristol –
https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/uk-union-cancels-weaponising-anti-semitism-book-launchBreaking: Unite email confirms leadership is behind ban on film and book exposing antisemitism smears
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The grounds given for this ban are that Unite resources should not be used for political purposes, and that “The issues covered in the film (and by implication in the book) are pertinent to internal Labour Party matters and that is not the focus of our union.” Frankly, this beggars belief. The unions founded the Labour Party to achieve the political voice that is essential to the best interests and welfare of our members. It is neither possible nor desirable to make such a flimsy, artificial distinction.
It is also an undemocratic refusal to face up to what happened to the movement within the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn – the foul means used to bring him down, means used by members of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the permanent staff of the Party. As exposed not only by the Leaked Report but by Al Jazeera’s “The Lobby” and “Labour Files”, and the Forde Report. Foul means which involved the gross misuse of Labour Party funds, including Unite’s/Our contributions in the 2017 General election.
At the heart of the assault on Jeremy Corbyn’s movement was and is the unfounded smear by those in the Party to whom we have referred, augmented by the right-wing media, that under Jeremy’s leadership the Party had become institutionally antisemitic. And that to allow Unite premises to show this film and launch this book would cause “deep hurt” to British Jews, the offensively racist trope used on these occasions which disrespects the individuality of Jews in our country by attributing to them inaccurately a collective view. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party under his leadership dared to stand up for and beside the unlawfully occupied, murdered and maimed citizens of Palestine, and against that country’s unlawful occupation by Israel, its brutal treatment under military law and aggressive settlement by 750,000 Israeli colonizers in Palestine protected by Israeli troops. “Deep hurt” – Tell that to the Palestinian mothers sheltering their children from drone dropped bombs in Gaza, tell that to the decades long displaced refugees and their children in Jenin Camp so brutally attacked by Israeli troops. Other instances of this are:
Resulting in the following fatalities and serious injuries reported by the United Nations: https://www.ochaopt.org/data/casualties
This “hurts” us as Unite members and we demand that we be able to debate these issues on Unite premises without the imposition of a dictatorial ban on the spurious grounds you advance. Grounds which deny and conflict with the “Solidarity” across national boundaries which is fundamental to our union as expressed in various affiliations such as that to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign: https://www.unitetheunion.org/what-we-do/international/solidarity-work/
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Yet you say we cannot discuss these issues on our own premises.
These are the some of the fundamental issues which the film and the book address, and which every Unite member should have the opportunity to debate freely on Unite premises – using our own resources created from our subscriptions for the purpose. Yet you have chosen to suppress this essential discussion on the flimsy ground that this is somehow not Unite’s business. Not our business! When our resources make a major contribution to the Labour Party’s funds, we participate in the supposed, sadly diminished democratic institutions of that Party, our contributions are misused and solidarity with our international neighbours as expressed in our affiliations flouted by the proudly self-proclaimed “Zionists” who lead it.
Central to our participation in the union as Unite Community members are the following provisions of “Community Membership” to which we – and you – signed up:
“Unite’s mission is to organise people to strive for a society that places equality, dignity and respect above all else … our union recognizes we can only achieve this if we bring people together from all walks of life … It is with this mind that Unite has founded its community membership scheme. Making us the leading community trade union in the UK and Ireland …
Organising and activism are at the centre of strong communities, which is why Unite’s community membership provides a way people can find and use their political voice …”
This is our contract with you. A contract that has been broken by your undemocratic and oppressive ban on our use of Unite resources to express our “political voice” and “strive for a society that places equality, dignity and respect above all else”. Aims shared with Tony Benn from whose eponymous House you have banned the discussions he thought essential to a democratic society.
We ask you to withdraw this ban and encourage the use of Unite resources for the debate and discussion fundamental to our and your mission.
David Plank For Unite Community Cambridge Branch
Cartmail responded with similar trite claims to those already been exposed exclusively by Skwawkbox – but additionally now claiming that Unite supports Palestinians, despite bowing to the pressure of right-wing pro-Israel groups determined to discredit those who stand in solidarity with Palestinians and against oppression and apartheid:
From: Cartmail, Gail
Sent: 22 August 2023 10:40
Subject: Email to the General Secretary
Thank you for your email to the General Secretary, who has asked me to respond as she is supporting members in dispute.
There had been a small number of requests to show ‘The Big Lie’ film in Unite offices.
We have also received concerns that the film has the potential to offend on issues that have proven previously to be extremely divisive. Unite is proudly anti-racist and stands with all minorities in our communities who face prejudice and discrimination.
Following the publication of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report of its investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn on reflection corrected his initial response to the report:
“We must never tolerate antisemitism or belittle concerns about it… I regret the pain this issue has caused the Jewish Community and would wish to do nothing that would exacerbate or prolong it. To be clear, concerns about antisemitism are neither “exaggerated” nor “overstated”.
Labour List published an article on the film. It is clear that the film ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn – the big lie’, will offend and rakes up issues that Jeremy Corbyn in his statement addressed: “I fully support Keir Starmer’s decision to accept all the EHRC recommendations in full and, in accordance with my lifelong convictions, will do what I can to help the Party move on, united against antisemitism which has been responsible for so many of history’s greatest crimes against humanity.”
Additionally, Unite has been criticised for not supporting in our offices a book launch. The publicity for the book states that the book shows “how Labour’s antisemitism crisis was manufactured”, which again will cause offence.
Unite has not “banned” the film mentioned nor the book, however we have declined to use our buildings for its showing and a related book launch.
Alongside this Unite has a longstanding commitment to international solidarity and has for decades supported the Palestinian cause and will continue to do so. No union has done more on Palestinian solidarity than Unite. Most recently Unite led the Parliamentary briefing on the government’s restriction on public bodies preventing the boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions in respect to the continuing illegal occupation of Palestinian land, the West Bank. This was reinforced by Unite’s Policy Conference held earlier in July. Subsequently the union’s Palestinian solidarity work continues within Parliament, and we are hosting Palestian guests at the forthcoming LP Conference. A further Unite delegation to Palestine is currently being organised.
Additionally, the issues covered in this film relate to internal Labour Party matters and that is not the focus of our union. In this time of a cost-of-living crisis, rising inflation and interest rates, our union’s focus is on the critical fight for our members jobs, pay and conditions, as well as issues affecting our local communities.
Best wishes, Gail
The branch chair’s response was simple:
Thank you for your off the shelf reply to the Branch’s bespoke letter. It does Unite no credit.
Your reply will be considered by the Branch at our next meeting.
A branch member told Skwawkbox:
The reply from Sharon Graham via Gail Cartmail was sent almost immediately and it is a disgrace. Unsurprisingly, as it is a standard reply it misses our strongly felt point and is disingenuous in its arguments.
Sharon Graham’s tenure at Unite has been marked by a string of other serious allegations, which neither she nor the union has ever denied – of abuse, cover-up and failure to protect women:
- that she attempted to have evidence destroyed in bullying and misogyny complaints about her husband, whom she now employs in her office despite a final warning from the union for his behaviour
- the union’s appalling treatment of Irish union legend Brendan Ogle has led to Ogle taking legal action over Unite’s ‘disgusting’ abuse and bullying following his return from cancer treatment. Ogle did not support Sharon Graham in the union’s general secretary election and the union’s conduct toward him led to protests during Graham’s recent Dublin visit, outrage among Irish politicians and even threats from a whole sector to disaffiliate entirely
- after her supporters failed in their bid to take control of the Unite executive despite ‘dark money’ spending on advertising, ineglible and racist members being allowed to stand and the alleged use of paid organisers in and following the exec election campaign, her faction has resorted to Starmerite tactics to try to discredit the executive members’ election of a new left-wing union chair and both vice-chairs, as well as the vital Finance and General Purpose Committee
In addition, she has been exposed behind the union’s decision to ban showings in Unite’s buildings of a film exposing racism, smears, rigging and abuse by the Labour right and has grown increasingly cosy with red-Tory Labour ‘leader’ Keir Starmer, despite Starmer’s lies, his contempt for democracy, his u-turns on promises to Unite members and his regime’s repeated blocking of Unite-backed parliamentary candidates.
Right-wing pro-Israel groups have attempted to put heavy pressure on venues showing the film or discussing the book, despite the conclusions even of the Starmer-commissioned (and subsequently ignored) Forde Inquiry confirming the weaponisation of false accusations of antisemitism for political purposes. One group boasted of its success in making Graham and co ban both from Unite’s buildings – exposing Unite’s false claim that there had been no attempts from outside groups to force the ban.
Read an exclusive extract from Winstanley’s book here.
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