UCU heading towards another boycott drive – Jon Pike, Elected member, UCU NEC

logoSWP/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?

Either, Yes.

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.

Or, no.

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.

Jon Pike

NEC (Nationally elected)

Jon Pike

Jon Pike

PS. Anyone remember the boycotters saying ‘publish the legal advice!’ last year? No, I’ve forgotten that too.

21 Responses to “UCU heading towards another boycott drive – Jon Pike, Elected member, UCU NEC”

  1. zkharya Says:

    Surely the withholding of advice paid for by members’ subs is grounds for taking them to court?

  2. Inna Says:

    The boycotters would rather destroy (quite literally) the union in the middle of a global economic crisis (i.e., the time you need unions the most) than give up their ideology?

    Amazing, truly amazing.

    Regards,

    Inna

  3. Mark2 Says:

    I agree this is terrible but you need to be careful here. I think there is something about legal advice being confidential to those who have commissioned it. Are you quite sure what the implications are for this in a Trade Union (or other voluntary of mutual) context?

    Does the privilege extend only to the governing body or the members as a whole? Of course even if it were restricted to the governing body members would be crazy to go ahead with a boycott without assurances as to their legal position even assuming such a boycott were right – which of course it isn’t.

    It will be interesting to see what the committe say about the legal position of members should such a boycott go ahead. Presumably it will be raised?

  4. zkharya Says:

    Here is, for those interested, the Pluto Press/UCU-SWP publication (on sale at you next UCU general meeting), John Rose’s The Myths of Zionism, in pdf form.

    Dedicated to Tony Cliff/Yigal Gluckstein, interestingly John Rose’s chiefest acknowledgment after his partner, is of Michael Rosen:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/9787928/The-Myths-of-Zionism

  5. David Hirsh Says:

    It was the National Executive Committee which, thanks to the SWP/UCU Left majority, voted that it, itself, should not read the legal advice before making a decision.

    Tom Hickey and the SWP has seen the advice on Strategy and Finance Committe, which is a subcommittee of the NEC – but they argued against allowing the NEC to see the advice.

    So there is no issue of confidentiality – the NEC could easily see the advice and keep it confidential. It chose not to know whether its action was in violation of the law.

  6. Mark2 Says:

    Thanks for that clarification David.

    How Extraordinary. So in asking members to go ahead thay are actually asking them to play a kind of legal Russian roulette?

  7. Absolute Observer Says:

    https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/02/23/university-defends-‘racist’-council-member/

    Smash Zionist Power; Smash Zionist Law.

    That is how far in the gutter the SWP have sunk………

    They are itching to take on the global power of the Jews; they cannot wait………

    Indeed, for this antisemitic populism, the fact that they are more than likely going to face legal challenge will be nothing more than proof that Jews run the world and “silence” not only dissent on the boycott but of trade unionists in general.

    The SWP has shown once again that populism overrides political principle.

  8. zkharya Says:

    Incidentally, the moral of Rose’s/SWP history of the Jews, as far as I can gather, is that Israel is the ruling classes/imperialist powers’ middle man exploitative of the gentile Christian peasant-working classes/Arab Muslim Third World Masses-Proletariat, even as the Jewish usurers and financiers of mediaeval and early modern western and eastern Europe.

  9. JG Campbell Says:

    Jon

    Encouraged that one or two prominent boycotters lost their NEC places in the recent election, and after that statement was issued distancing UCU from earlier pro-boycott statements, I rejoined UCU a couple of months ago. I was assuming that the UCULeft/SWP bloc on the NEC had either been significantly weakened and/or chastened by recent experiences, and another boycott fiasco in 2009 was unlikely. But your post here is making me wonder whether I got the wrong end of the stick.

    So just as a technical question, can you tell me whether the UCULeft/SWP bloc effectively have a working majority on the NEC even after the recent elections? Or was it that, at the meeting described in this post, an unusually large proportion of the anti-boycotters failed to turn up, thereby giving UCULeft/SWP a majority they wouldn’t normally have?

    Jonathan

  10. Jonathan Romer Says:

    I don’t fully understand the structure of the union leadership, that such a decision was possible, and I don’t understand the role and position of the Trustees in this. Can they be held personally liable for the union’s failure to obey legal advice that has been withheld from them?

    It seems to me that Jon Pike and the other members of the NEC that voted against concealing the advice are exposed to the consequences of the vote and should either resign from the NEC forthwith — stating reasons — or seek legal advice of their own. I would be willing to chip in to a legal fund for them as, I imagine, would other supporters of Engage.

  11. Bill Says:

    “It seems to me that Jon Pike and the other members of the NEC that voted against concealing the advice are exposed to the consequences of the vote and should either resign from the NEC forthwith — stating reasons — or seek legal advice of their own.”

    I’m sure they’d love to see Jon Pike and others who share his sense of sunshine and ethics get out of their way so the UCU can be their personal cudgel against academic freedom. But you’re right that they’re creating a liability nightmare not just for the NEC but for any UCU member who will be tainted by a body that thinks it’s dandy to discriminate and harass “Israeli” “Institutions” and no one else.

    But on that Sunshine note, are there Sunshine Laws in the UK that can compel them to release the advice at least to people who need to be in the know, like Pike & co?

  12. Breaking The Union. « ModernityBlog Says:

    […] of Israel before that of their trade union and the members, as Jon Pike, member of UCU’s NEC points out: “At the NEC last Friday, the UCULeft/SWP voted to withhold legal advice on resolutions […]

  13. Jonathan Romer Says:

    Bill,

    My first thought was like yours — that the good guys resigning from the NEC would be a victory for the bigots. Against that, though, there’s this:

    1) I can’t see that anyone has the right to expect Jon et al to go down with the ship. If they can’t keep the executive from voting to place them all in legal jeopardy, they should be free to protect themselves. If the only way they can realistically do that is by resigning, then that has to be OK with me.

    2) I think the sight of a large percentage of the NEC announcing loudly, publicly and in unison that they are resigning because of this specific unethical and reckless action, it might focus the membership’s attention on what is being done to their union and their funds in their name, and it might cause them to question the tactics used and whether a position that needs such tactics to sustain it doesn’t deserve closer scrutiny.

  14. Lynne T Says:

    Jonathan Romer Says:
    May 11, 2009 at 1:38 pm
    I don’t fully understand the structure of the union leadership, that such a decision was possible, and I don’t understand the role and position of the Trustees in this. Can they be held personally liable for the union’s failure to obey legal advice that has been withheld from them?

    If British laws on liability are anything like Canadian (and I believe they are), yes, the trustees can be held personally liable and should be, and if the UCU carries any kind of directors’ liability insurance, the insurer may deny the claim if the trustees’ acts violate the terms of the coverage. The trustees have a number of legal duties not to damage the corporate body.

    The contempt that this union leadership has shown towards its own members is unbelievable. It’s not the classic corruption seen in unions, so presumably the perpetrators think they have a right to carry on. Of course I guess that’s consistent with the counterproductivity of their notion of supporting the Palestinian cause.

  15. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Lynne, with reference to the Trustees, Jon has this to say:
    “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_.” (emphasis added)

    He can’t be clearer than that: the Trustee offered what we have to assume was safe and responsible advice, and was ignored by the sub-committee. What we can’t know (and only those with an intimate knowledge of the union’s rules will) is what power the NEC has to overrule the sub-committee and demand to see the advice. This, if the rules allow this (and they do, in the vast majority of organisations), will depend on a vote at the NEC. In turn, the outcome of this vote will depend on the results of the last election to that body, and who was actually there, how the argument was presented and other such factors.

    However, who and how many are Trustees varies between organisations. My own professional body made every elected Executive Committee member a Trustee, but I don’t think at that time there were any “sectional” electees. Until we changed to an incorporated charity, each Trustee had unlimited liability: personally, I’d advise every Trustee of the UCU to examine the appropriat clauses of the constitution, articles and instruments of government and other such documents _very_ carefully. Unlimited liability means _exactly_ what it says. Trustees can be declared bankrupt and lose everything but the tools of their trade and their very personal possessions (such as clothing). They can even be made to sell any property they own to meet the debt for which they have become liable.

    Previously, UCU hadn’t taken legal advice _in advance_ of presenting boycott motions to Conference. Now it has, and a faction has chosen to ignore it, on behalf of the NEC and the membership. Although Jon doesn’t know what that advice is, it seems reasonable to assume that it is weighted _against_ presenting these Resolutions to Conference, else why refuse to present it to the NEC?

    The boycotters will, of course, re-present their arguments (if they can be called that) about freedom (of speech and action, presumably) not being subject to repressive law. Where the law is a bad one, such a stand may well be courageous and morally right. Where, however, _their_ freedom is being bought at the expense of others freedom, and the law(s) in question can hardly be called bad, such actions are, at best, self-indulgent, at worst, a disaster for the union.

    But when, in the last 5 years or so, has that ever worried the boycotters or cause them a moment’s pause?

  16. Harry Goldstein Says:

    Jonathan,

    I suspect that Jon and others who opposed these moves wouldn’t be legally liable. My understanding is that being on record as voting against an illegal policy protects you from the legal liability. That said, of course, I’m not a lawyer, and I’m sure they will want to take legal advice before deciding their course of action.

    Perhaps what we ought to be thinking about is the political response. Personally, the only way I know about any of this is from Engage and an email from stoptheboycott. I assume the vast majority of UCU members, who don’t follow these things from day to day, are totally oblivious to these machinations.

    Can we find some way of communicating this to the membership generally, in order to alert them to what’s going on in their name?

  17. Ralph Marks Says:

    “The contempt that this union leadership has shown towards its own members is unbelievable. It’s not the classic corruption seen in unions, so presumably the perpetrators think they have a right to carry on. Of course I guess that’s consistent with the counterproductivity of their notion of supporting the Palestinian cause.”

    Leninists and I assume Trotskyites don’t believe in unions as bargaining entities where the lives of workers can be made easier. They believe in unions (and other social organizations) merely as places of agitation from which they can launch attacks on the bourgeois power structure.

    Hence it should come as no surprise that a small number of these so called radicals have been using their union as a staging ground for assaults on Israel which they see as a bourgeois colonial State.

    The only way to put an end to such machinations is to expel these repeat boycotters, or else expose them and form another union.

  18. amicus from the us Says:

    Given the recent US Phosphorus attacks and civilian deaths in Afghanistan, the UCULeft/SWP might want to consider extending their boycott to US Universities/journals as well (maybe Canada too, and how about NATO countries while they are at it)?

  19. Lynne T Says:

    Ralph: spot on about unions

    amicus: come on up to Toronto and enjoy watching the supporters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elaam endanger the lives of small children by having them block a downtown expressway in order to chant support for a banned organization that sought independence through acts of terror they learned from Hezbollah for 30+ years and are now facing the heavy reprisals of Sri Lanka’s military which is trying to flush the leader out of his hide-out.

  20. Mike Holmes Says:

    It’s a good job that we in UCU have Israel and Palestine to run. Otherwise, instead of endless wittering about these faraway countries each with too many People of Baked Brain looking to murder each other, we’d probably have to occupy ourselves with things of concern to our dues-paying members, or perhaps even irrelevant nonsense like the strike ballot.

    Every day I’m just so grateful that we’re run by the proto-fascists of the SWP, who are so delightfully like the fascists in the BNP but with a slightly different Little List of minorities whose rights they’d like to destroy.

    I’m ever so glad they don’t take their goose-stepping asses off to some organisation where their obsessions would be appreciated and instead stick to us like shit on a shoe.

  21. Vicky Seddon Says:

    Trustees are directly elected by the members. They formally hold the assets of the union and have responsibilities to safeguard those assets on behalf of the members, so if the union takes action which puts those assets in jeopardy, they do have an interest/obligation to seek to protect them.

    Do we know which trustees have taken the court action?


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