The GMB and the wider labour movement must act on the findings of the investigation by Karon Monaghan QC, which found that the GMB union is institutionally sexist.
The union began an independent investigation in May into sexual harassment in the GMB, after announcing it had received an anonymous letter accusing General Secretary Tim Roache of “sexist and aggressive” behaviour towards women.
The report found women are under-represented throughout the GMB’s ranks, and that bullying, misogyny, cronyism and sexual harassment are endemic within the GMB. The report tells of a senior official who has now been revealed to be former General Secretary Paul Kenny intervening to save a man accused of serious sexual harassment. The report claims he wrote to GMB HR and suggested that the accused should be relocated to a new job and given a £30,000 payoff.
The report locates much of GMB’s problems in a democratic deficit. The regional secretaries hold disproportionate power in the GMB. Many use that power to bully and manipulate members of the GMB’s lay bodies, from branches up to the CEC (the union’s lay executive). It points to lay control of the union as necessary for cultural transformation.
All true, but lay control of the union is not simply a recommendation that can be “actioned” by the GMB and monitored by the TUC in the same way as other recommendations such as new policies, sexual harassment training and equalities targets.
The CEC and in particular President Barbara Plant have already made some assertion of lay control by voting for and welcoming the report, against the interests of the bureaucracy. To continue will require a sustained battle to move power to lay committees and rebuild GMB organisation at the workplace level. That will certainly not be easy.
The problems highlighted by the report are not unique to the GMB. We need to fight bullying, misogyny, cronyism, patronage and sexual harassment in all our unions. But we cannot let the political big picture distract from the specifics in the GMB.
We must do the job of the long term rank and file transformation of our unions. But in the short term we must ensure specific allegations are investigated.
Journalists have said that Roache resigned after allegations of sexual assault, and the Daily Mail reports that GMB were aware of allegations against Roache of “spiking” a woman’s drinks and allowed him to avoid formal investigation process by taking a lie detector test. Specific investigations must be made into specific allegations of misconduct.