Motion calling for disaffiliation with right-wing, pro-Israel group leads to suspension by union – but GMB has not explained supposed inaccuracies or why democratic motion in line with union policy is problematic
The GMB union has suspended a former employee and current union member – because his London branch passed a motion for GMB’s 2023 Congress calling for disaffiliation from right-wing, pro-Israel group JLM (Jewish Labour Movement).
The motion, which was passed unanimously by Walthamstow branch, reads:
Congress accepts that the decision to work with the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) runs contrary to GMB’s support for Palestine, has brought the union into disrepute and should never have been countenanced.
Congress notes that the JLM is effectively the UK wing of the Israeli Labour Party, a racist organisation that governed Israel from 1948 to 1977 and was directly responsible for the massacre or the expulsion of three quarters of a million Palestinians. Today, some of their Knesset members support the most right-wing Israeli regime in history.
JLM conflates anti-Zionism with antisemitism and by dint of its support, GMB is leaving itself open to accusations that it is supporting the racist treatment of Palestinian people. Therefore, Congress instructs the General Secretary and the CEC to sever all ties with JLM forthwith.
GMB, like the other major unions, has an official – and democratically reached – policy supporting the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ movement, which JLM opposes and in both 2011 and 2013 passed resolutions not to allow its members to travel to Israel on delegations organised by ‘Trade Union Friends of Israel’ (TUFI).
But despite the apparently obvious alignment between the Walthamstow branch’s motion and the union’s official position, the GMB’s regional secretary has written to branch member Bert Schouwenburg, ‘in comradeship’, informing him that he has been suspended for the ‘antisemitic’ resolution:
Skwawkbox called and wrote to the GMB press office, asking:
As just discussed, please find attached the union’s letter to Bert Schouwenburg, suspending him because Walthamstow branch submitted a motion for disaffiliation with the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) on the grounds that affiliation risks GMB being seen as complicit in Israel’s racist treatment of Palestinians.
- JLM is an openly pro-Israel organisation, which – particularly given the current regime’s extremist right-wing politics and open intention to further expand illegal settlements, would appear to make affiliation at odds with the union’s longstanding, congress-approved position not to affiliate with Trade Union Friends of Israel or allow travel to Israel, because of the Israeli government’s racist policies and illegal settlements. Why is a branch motion being used to suspend a member?
- the motion was submitted by the Walthamstow branch, which voted unanimously for it (see https://iuforg-my.sharepoint.com/:w:/g/personal/bert_schouwenburg_iuf_org/ETD-L9KOnUlIlgRlFOqiaaQBtGZas_FmQuw83SNG8PSBRw?rtime=mDt4sjFS20g). Is GMB suspending the whole branch or just Mr Schouwenburg?
- Israel’s government has been condemned by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and others as an apartheid regime and its government is openly racist, including its Finance Minister who has boasted of being a ‘fascist homophobe’. Why is the union suspending one or more members for a democratic motion to open a conference debate about the morals of a link with a strongly pro-Israel group that does not appear to have condemned even the worst excesses of the current Netanyahu regime?
- what are the ‘factual inaccuracies’ claimed by Warren Kenny? Is the union disputing that the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians took place in and subsequent to 1948?
No response had been received from the union by the time of writing, seven hours after the provided deadline.
Mr Schouwenburg told Skwawkbox:
By seeking to expel me from the union, GMB are trying to shut down any voices that dissent from their newly-found enthusiasm for Israel’s apartheid regime. Under Gary Smith, a union that once backed the call for Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) is now supporting the most vicious, right-wing government in Israel’s history.
I refuse to be silenced by the reactionary bureaucrats in charge of GMB and urge fellow members to join me in giving unconditional support to the Palestinian people
GMB general secretary Gary Smith was responsible for last year’s decision by the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival to uninvite pro-Palestinian musician and activist Lowkey. The union has also adopted the unfit ‘IHRA working definition’ of antisemitism, which legal experts say does not define anything and human rights groups and even its creator says is dangerous and exists to suppress criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian human rights.