SWP/UCUleft, in anti-democratic drive for boycott, withholds legal advice from elected representatives
At the NEC last Friday, the UCULeft/SWP voted to withhold legal advice on resolutions advocating a boycott of Israel from the elected members of the NEC.
This means that the advice from a QC, commissioned by the leadership and paid for by members of the union was restricted to a subcommittee of the NEC, elected by, and supposedly accountable to the NEC.
Those who had seen the advice, including Tom Hickey, were instrumental in refusing to disclose its content to elected representatives. A Trustee of the union, who is legally liable for the actions that we take, and whose advice was to conform to the legal advice, was ignored.
As a result, Congress will consider resolutions which may, or may not, threaten serious financial harm to the union. Neither the NEC nor Congress will know anything about the legal risks involved in the courses of action that are presented to it.
It’s likely that Hickey and others have intensified the legal jeopardy – the threat to the union’s finances, and the financial wellbeing of the Trustees – in which the union now finds itself, because the union now has knowingly and consciously decided to flout the law, against its own legal advice.
It looks as if the resolutions will be circulated this week. Here we go again: a rushed debate, no proper scrutiny, no time for meetings to consider amendments, no chance of mandating delegates. What’s the betting we get another stitched up debate, with Tom Hickey getting two, or maybe this time three or four speeches, whilst no opposition is allowed?
There are a number of possibilities. Perhaps the advice is that the resolutions are innocuous and legally uncontroversial. But it may be that the advice is that the resolutions in question lay the union open to serious legal jeopardy and unlimited financial liability. I don’t know, you don’t know, but the Socialist Worker’s Party does know. And they won’t tell you, or me, or branch presidents, or Congress delegates, or other elected representatives.
You will be told that you ought not to be intimidated by legal threats. Fair enough. But that’s not the issue. We don’t know whether those threats are substantial or insignificant.
Should the Union take legal advice on motions submitted to its Congress?
We shouldn’t publish or circulate defamatory, or racist, or discriminatory proposals, even if they are submitted by a branch. In this case, we should get some legal scrutiny of our resolutions and we should take heed of that advice – that means disclosing it to the supreme body of the union – the NEC.
We’re libertarians on this. We should publish and circulate anything: no need for legal scrutiny. If you take the libertarian line, we’ve wasted thousands of pounds of members’ money on wholly irrelevant legal advice.
Either we’ve wasted members’ money, or we’ve breached democratic norms and acted wholly irresponsibly. Either/or.
Sometimes it may be right for the union to act in a way that skirts, or even defies the law. It is sometimes right to stand up for natural justice against a biased or unjust law. The Tolpuddle Martyrs did so, and there is a proud tradition of defiance of the law by the labour movement.
But the Tolpuddle martyrs were not kept in the dark about legal advice that they paid for. They weren’t told by some trot bureaucrat – “on you go, take the risk, bear the punishment, but we won’t tell you about the costs involved.”
Decisions of the union ought to be taken by its members and their elected representatives based on the facts and advice available to the union. No serious trade unionist could think otherwise. If we are to skirt the law, we ought to do so in a conscious and considered way.
Or you might think, Nah, forget it, let’s press on regardless, and see what happens.
If so, you’re not a serious trade unionist.
As you contemplate the new fashion in the UCU for Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses, remember this.
The SWP/UCULeft majority that controls our union have:
- Refused to give ordinary members a direct vote on proposals for an academic boycott of Israel (SFC minutes 2007)
- Misrepresented and fabricated union policy on a boycott of Israel (SFC statement 2008 and NEC minutes 2009)
- Refused to disclose legal advice paid for by members, to their elected representatives (NEC minutes 2009)
This represents both a violation of democratic norms and an act of obvious irresponsibility.
NEC (Nationally elected)
PS. Anyone remember the boycotters saying ‘publish the legal advice!’ last year? No, I’ve forgotten that too.