GMB: mudslinging at the top

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By Dale Street

Allegation and counter-allegation about GMB full-timers have been flying thick and fast.

According to an article in Jewish News an (unnamed) GMB full-timer, speaking at a GMB Christmas party in 2019, had said that claims of antisemitism in the Labour Party were a smear spread by “rich Jewish bastards”.

Although the matter had been investigated and the full-timer, now retired, had been cleared, the article continued, the current GMB Acting General Secretary Warren Kenny was so concerned about the way the investigation had been conducted that he had brought in ACAS to review the case.

Paul Maloney, the unnamed former GMB Southern Regional Secretary, promptly posted on his Facebook page, stating that there was no truth to the allegation, which had originally been raised by Scottish Regional Secretary Gary Smith.

Maloney subsequently clashed with Smith, the post continued, when he had upheld an allegation of bullying and discrimination against a GMB full-timer whom Smith supported. Smith then “revived” the claim of antisemitism, and Maloney lodged a grievance against him.

The appearance of the article in Jewish News, claimed Maloney, was “no coincidence”. It came just one day after Maloney had made further criticisms of Smith. Those criticisms related to an “exclusive” article published by LabourList.

According to that article, GMB women employees had lodged a formal dispute with the GMB over the way their grievances about discrimination and bullying (by GMB male full-timers) had been dealt with.

One of the full-timers accused of bullying was Smith, who is also one of the candidates in the election of a new GMB General Secretary.

Just for good measure, Private Eye carried an article about an advert placed in the Morning Star highlighting the role of Eleanor Marx as co-founder of what is now the GMB. Signatories (“We stand on the shoulders of all the women who came before us …”) included GMB Yorkshire and North Derbyshire Regional Secretary Neil Derrick.

But, the article pointed out, Derrick played a prominent role in trying to block Kathleen Walker-Shaw from standing in the 2019 General Secretary election. Walker-Shaw was the first woman to try to get on the ballot paper in a GMB General Secretary election.

We do not know which, if any, of the allegations are true, or even contain at least some element of truth. But the flurry of claims and counter-claims are indicative of two things.

Firstly, there has been only limited progress since the publication of the Monaghan Report last year. The report found that bullying, sexism and top-down control were endemic in the GMB, and that the membership needed to ‘take back control’.

But the picture of the GMB which emerges from the conflicting allegations is one of a union still dominated by full-timers, only now full-timers now engaged in trench warfare with each other.

The role of the membership, on the other hand, is downgraded to that of increasingly bemused bystanders in a union whose future seems to depend on the outcome of a conflict between different factions of the bureaucracy.

Secondly, it is reasonable to assume that one factor in play in the eruption of claim and counter-claim is the fact that the process for the election of the next GMB General Secretary is now underway.

To some degree, it is reasonable to assume, the motivation behind this “going public” is not so much a genuine desire to clean up the GMB as a desire to do down certain candidates in order to gain an electoral advantage.

All this inhibits support for any of the GMB full-timers who have thrown their hats into the ring to stand for election as GMB General Secretary.

The election is looking less and less like an opportunity to re-assert lay-member democracy and end the shameful culture identified in the Monaghan Report.

More and more it is looking like a public display of bureaucratic jockeying for power and, thereby, a continuation of some of the worst elements of that culture.

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