Union leader plans to unite with Jews

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - IN­TER­VIEW GER­ARD COYNE BYLEE HARPIN

THE CHAL­LENGER for the lead­er­ship of Unite, Bri­tain’s big­gest trade union, has is­sued a dev­as­tat­ing cri­tique of cur­rent gen­eral sec­re­tary Len McCluskey’s re­la­tion­ship with Bri­tain’s Jewish com­mu­nity.

Ger­ard Coyne told the JC he be­lieved three se­nior mem­bers of Unite, with close links to Mr McCluskey and Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn, had cho­sen to “de­fend the in­de­fen­si­ble” when they backed two in­di­vid­u­als at the cen­tre of an an­ti­semitism en­quiry at Ox­ford Univer­sity’s Labour Club.

Mr Coyne, head of Unite’s West Mid­lands branch, also in­sisted that un­der Mr McCluskey’s hard-left lead­er­ship the union had wrongly “sin­gled out” the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict when “for many of our mem­bers it is not some­thing at the fore­front of their minds”.

He said he was con­fi­dent of oust­ing Mr McCluskey, who he be­lieves is “ob­sessed with try­ing to run the Labour Party and the coun­try at the same time” in a bal­lot of the union’s 1.42 mil­lion mem­bers later this month.

Re­spond­ing to last week’s JC in­ves­ti­ga­tion which re­vealed how three Unite rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Labour’s NEC had been be­hind a de­ci­sion not to is­sue warn­ings to two stu­dents ac­cused of an­ti­semitism and bul­ly­ing, Mr Coyne said: “My view has al­ways been, when deal­ing with dis­crim­i­na­tion as a union of­fi­cial, it is with those on the re­ceiv­ing end of the al­le­ga­tions where you start.

“You don’t start by de­fend­ing those who are ac­cused of hav­ing made the in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments.

“First and fore­most, our rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Labour’s NEC are there to do a role on be­half of Unite. They are not there to be put­ting re­sources into de­fend­ing the very peo­ple ac­cused of wrong­do­ing. We don’t de­fend the in­de­fen­si­ble. I don’t think that is right.”

Hos­til­ity to Is­rael and Zion­ism has been a con­stant fea­ture of Unite’s po­lit­i­cal stance un­der its cur­rent leader, who was elected gen­eral sec­re­tary in 2013.

Mr McCluskey went so far as to claim Labour’s an­ti­semitism cri­sis was man­u­fac­tured for “po­lit­i­cal aims”, de­scrib­ing the con­tro­versy as “mood mu­sic” ex­ploited by en­e­mies of Mr Cor­byn.

That opin­ion was pas­sion­ately shot down by Mr Coyne. “We must be rep­re­sen­ta­tive and sup­port­ive of all groups we work with,” he said, ac­cept­ing that many Bri­tish Jews have a neg­a­tive im­pres­sion of his union’s at­ti­tude.

“If we don’t do this, then we un­der­mine our own strength, our own unity. We have seen grow­ing lev­els of hate

crime, be it with the Jewish, the Is­lamic or east­ern European com­mu­ni­ties com­ing un­der at­tack.

“The de­bate does seem to be get­ting more vi­cious in tone — so it might be fo­cused first on the Jewish com­mu­nity’s re­li­gious be­liefs, and then on to ev­ery­thing that flows from that in terms of the state of Is­rael. The fact is we have had to have a spe­cific in­ves­ti­ga­tion into an­ti­semitism within the Labour Party. How it has been al­lowed to grow there is an anath­ema to me.

“To be say­ing that claims of an­ti­semitism are ac­tu­ally a smoke­screen for some­thing else; that is one big cop out.”

Mr Coyne also ar­gued that Unite’s lead­er­ship had taken the union in a hard-left po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tion that does not rep­re­sent all mem­bers’ in­ter­ests.

“The Arab-Is­raeli con­flict — to many

of our mem­bers up and down the coun­try it is not some­thing at the fore­front of their minds,” he added.

Mr Coyne, who grew up in West Bromwich and is from an Ir­ish im­mi­grant fam­ily, was keen to high­light and cel­e­brate the con­tri­bu­tion made by Bri­tish Jews to the move­ment.

“Look at Manch­ester, Leeds and to a lesser ex­tent Birm­ing­ham — the Jewish com­mu­nity was in­trin­si­cally linked to the fun­da­men­tal be­liefs of the trade union move­ment,” he ex­plained. “There was a core sym­pa­thy with left­lean­ing pol­i­tics. I don’t un­der­stand at the mo­ment the sense that this isn’t ac­cept­able.”

Urg­ing Jews to re-join Unite, Mr Coyne says: “There is a home in Unite for mem­bers of the Jewish com­mu­nity, as there is for ev­ery faith.”

PHOTO: PA

Ger­ard Coyne says there is a home for the Jewish com­mu­nity in Unite

Peter Bar­ron gives ev­i­dence to the Home Af­fairs Com­mit­tee

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