The T&G has joined the growing number of unions voting to support a boycott of Israel in some form. The Biennial Delegate Conference voted on 4 July to “support a boycott of Israeli products and goods” — in very strange circumstances.
This decision follows the recent passing of pro-boycott motions by NUJ, UCU and Unison. Those votes, though in no case did they represent likely majority opinion among the membership, were carried out properly after a fairly extensive debate from the floor. At the T&G conference, however, pro-boycott activists manoeuvred successfully to avoid a debate.
Two motions on Israel-Palestine were submitted to the conference. One, number 169, combined platitudes about Palestinian rights with support for the Enough! coalition’s activities: not ideal, but relatively unobjectionable. The other, number 170, from the Birmingham Vehicle Builders’ District Committee, committed the union to support for a boycott.
At the T&G Broad Left's pre-conference caucus on 30 June, following a number of anti-boycott speeches including from Workers’ Liberty, activists voted overwhelmingly to oppose motion 170 and asked Andy Erlam from ACTS 1/524 branch, who would be representing motion 169 at compositing the next day, to ensure that the two motions remained separate.
At the compositing meeting, however, Erlam mysteriously went missing at the crucial point, with the result that 170 and 169 were composited into a single motion. Thus delegates were denied the right to vote on the boycott proposal separately, and faced with having to support a boycott in order to pass any pro-Palestinian policy at all.
Thus, despite the clear indication at the Broad Left pre-meeting that at large swathe of activists wanted to show solidarity with the Palestinians but were opposed to a boycott, a cynical manoeuvre meant that delegates got no clear vote on the issue.
Matters were made worse when, at the conference itself, following a proposing speech which compared Israel to Nazi Germany, the chair cut short the discussion allegedly due to lack of time - but then allowed Barry Camfield of the GEC half an hour to summate! The result is that hardly any speeches on the issue were taken, and the many delegates who wished to put the case against the composited motion were denied the right to do so. Thus the boycott was passed, bizarrely, without a fight.
This is a triumph for the Stalinist fake left in the union, represented par excellence by Camfield, who combine an abject industrial record with leftist posturing on international issues - taking positions on the latter which, as in this case, are actually not very left-wing at all. An important element in this camp is the faction of the Communist Party of Britain/Morning Star which supports a boycott and currently seems to be in the ascendant within the CPB.
The issue will not be discussed again until the first unified Unite policy conference in a couple of years’ time - when we may see a clash between pro-boycott sections of the T&G left and the pro-Israeli right in Amicus. Socialists in both unions should begin building support for a rational, internationalist pro-Palestinian position and campaign.
Whatever the circumstances, the vote at T&G conference is a major victory for the pro-boycott campaigners. The boycott campaign is clearly gathering pace. Activists in every union, but particularly those which now have pro-boycott policy, need to get organised to ensure that the voice of sanity is heard loudly and clearly. Trade Unionists for Two States, growing out of the policy passed by the CWU in 2002, is a vehicle to do that. We urge comrades to get involved.
• Trade Unionists for Two States: see www.links-not-boycott.org.uk for more info