By Jon Lansman (at Left Futures, 22 Jan):
Yesterday [ie 21 Jan], the Scottish police confirmed that they had found “no evidence of any criminality” in their inquiry into the activities of Stevie Deans, who was until three months ago full-time convenor at the Ineos plant at Grangemouth (where he’d worked for 25 years) and Chair of Unite in Scotland as well as the sometime Chair of Falkirk Labour Party.
This is the second time, allegations against Stevie Deans have been investigated and dismissed by the Scottish police, the first referral having come from the Labour Party, the second from INEOS. Unsurprisingly, Unite yesterday condemned the fact that “the police’s time has been wasted by vexatious complaints and their attentions diverted from catching real criminals and solving real crimes“.
Labour regards the whole affair as closed, especially now that Karen Whitefield, the former MSP, has been selected as the Labour candidate for Falkirk, but there is no truth and reconciliation process in Labour’s rule book. Stevie Deans may have lost his job, Karie Murphy denied the opportunity to seek the nomination, Tom Watson lost his place in the shadow cabinet, and hundreds of people recruited to the Labour Party denied any participation in the selection, but no apologies are required it seems.
The whole affair was talked up by politicians (including some then in the shadow cabinet) and bloggers associated with Progress, making allegations of ballot-rigging based on nothing more than rumour and speculation, with the express purpose of persuading Ed Miliband to smash what’s left of union influence in the party.
The Labour Party’s investigators failed to speak to Stevie Deans or Karie Murphy who were suspended without a hearing, on the basis of a secret report, and Unite the Union, and its general secretary, were subjected to months of unjustified abuse.
Ed Miliband, on the back of his condemnation of the “machine politics” he claimed was evident in Falkirk, did indeed propose the most radical change in the relationship between the party and the unions, which he continues to seek in some form in spite of the collapse of the justification for doing so.
Stevie Deans and Karie Murphy deserve some apologies. So do Labour’s affiliated trade unions. And the biggest apologies should come from those associated with Progress.
What we are shortly likely to get instead from those associated with Progress, whatever appears in the Collins report, is criticism of Ed Miliband for not going far enough to smash what’s left of union influence.
The Lib Dem’s present shambles over Lord Rennard is the direct result of a botched attempt to fudge the issue of the sexual harassment allegations against this powerful and influential figure whose behaviour has been covered up by the leadership for years.
The inquiry led by Alistair Webster QC created total confusion – and gave Rennard and his supporters plausible grounds for crying ‘foul’ – by concluding that the case against Rennard was unproven, and yet also calling upon him to apologise in the light of “broadly credible” claims against him by 11 women.
Crucially, Webster’s report (though it hasn’t been seen by Rennard, or indeed Clegg, due apparently, to mysterious “data protection” concerns) seems to have blurred and confused two distinct standards of proof: Webster says the case against Rennard does not satisfy the “beyond reasonable doubt” (ie being at least 99% sure of guilt) standard required for criminal cases, and which is also, it seems, required before disciplinary action can be taken under the Lib Dem’s rules. But Rennard’s supporter and legal adviser Lord Carlile QC claims that Webster told him that even the civil “balance of probability” standard of proof could not be met. This seems incredible, given Webster’s statement that in his opinion “the evidence of behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants was broadly credible.” Remember, that the “balance of probability” test (ie being 51% sure of someone’s guilt) is considered sufficient for an employer to dismiss an employee for gross misconduct and is the test that employment tribunals apply when considering cases.
It turns out that what Webster meant was that he didn’t think there was a 51% chance of satisfying the “beyond reasonable doubt” test, which is, of course, not what the “balance of probability” test means – something that both Webster QC and Carlile QC must surely understand.
With Rennard threatening legal action, 100 women members signing a letter demanding “no apology, no whip” and the party split on generational lines, the Lib Dems are well and truly in the shit over this. Not only has their claim to be a party that takes equality seriously been destroyed: they’ve shown themselves to be a total shower who can’t even organise an effective fudge.
This has appeared at the so-called “Socialist Unity” site:
The triumph of irony
Posted by John Wight on 4 November, 2013
This freak has the cheek to describe the veil worn by some Muslim women as “peculiar”.
JD comments: two rather obvious points appear to have eluded the author of that post:
1/ Mr Clarke is not appearing as the defendant in a court of law (though perhaps he should – an entirely different matter)
2/ You can see his face (ridiculous garb notwithstanding).
The snappily-named ‘Transparency of Lobbying Bill Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill’ gets its second reading in Parliament today. It is ironic that a piece of legislation ostensibly intended to clean up politics, will, in reality undermine basic liberties and – in particular – trade union freedom.
Above: this would be effectively outlawed in the 12 months before an election
KEITH EWING explains the issues:
The TUC has expressed serious concerns about the far – reaching consequences of the government’s Transparency of Lobbying, Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, due for a second reading next week.
Such concern is hardly surprising, for this is a Bill that not only represents a threat to basic liberties generally, but to trade union freedom specifically. So much for the Illiberal Democrats, who promised that they would be the guardians of freedom when in government.
The Bill presents two major threats to trade unions. Here the concern is with the consequences for trade union electoral freedom, which is not intended to diminish the other threat which relates to even greater – and yet more intolerable – State supervision of trade union membership lists.
But so far as electoral freedom is concerned, the strategy is clear – previous Tory governments having stripped trade unions of their industrial freedoms, the Coalition is now set on stripping trade unions of their political freedoms as well, continuing in the illiberal vein that has already produced secret courts and the harassment of journalists.
The proposed new restrictions are designed to silence union election campaigning, though as the TUC has pointed out, they have much wider implications. It is a nasty and cynical attempt at self-preservation, the law being used purely as an instrument of partisan self-interest.
But although the impact on trade union political freedom is likely to be far-reaching and (as the TUC pointed out last week) wide – ranging, such concerns should not divert attention from the Bill’s central purpose, which is clearly and unequivocally to weaken trade union support for the Labour party at the election in 2015.
Trade unions take part in elections in a number of ways. First, they make substantial donations to the Labour party to help it with its election campaigns. But secondly, some trade unions – notably UNISON – may run their own national campaigns independently of the Labour party.
Other unions will provide grass – roots support to the Labour party at constituency level, helping with the national campaign and assisting Labour parliamentary candidates. Some unions will also make contributions to organisations campaigning against racism and the BNP.
Where trade unions engage in their own campaigns nationally or locally they are already subject to tight legal controls. As ‘third parties’ for the purposes of election law, these controls apply to ‘controlled expenditure’ – a term used to describe national election campaign costs, capped at just under £1 million for each union.
So far the law has not been a serious problem for trade union election activity. That, however, is about to change, with an extremely densely written and confusing Bill proposing to expand the definition of ‘controlled expenditure’, while also reducing the amount of money unions can lawfully spend. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: Miranda (left) and Greenwald
“Freedom only for supporters of the government, only for members of one party — however numerous they may be — is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of ‘justice’ but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends upon this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when ‘freedom’ becomes a special privilege” – Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution, 1918.
Regular readers will know that I think Glenn Greenwald is a self-important jerk with views that are symptomatic of a lot of what’s wrong with much of the so-called ‘left’ these days: third-worldist, petty bourgeois, often downright bizarre, and generally indifferent to working class struggle.
None of that changes the fact the detention of his partner David Miranda for nine hours at Heathrow under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, is an outrage and an obvious attempt to intimidate not only Greenwald, but all investigative journalists taking an interest in the activities of the US National Security Agency and the UK’s GCHQ.
Everyone who cares about free speech and a free press should sign this petition:
By Adeel Akhtar:
On Sunday David Miranda, the Brazilian partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald who has written stories about revealing mass surveillance programmes by the US Government, was held at Heathrow Airport under the UK Terrorism Act. He was released without charge after nine hours.
Being detained by authorities can be terrifying for an innocent person. Unfortunately I know how David feels. Ten years ago, I was returning to New York from London where I was studying when I was detained for several hours on ‘suspicion of terrorism’ – their reason? I looked ‘familiar’. It was a traumatic experience which left me feeling powerless and let down, fearful that when travelling I’ll be singled out and have to go through the same thing again.
Glenn Greenwald told the BBC: “They never asked him about a single question at all about terrorism or anything relating to a terrorist organisation. They spent the entire day asking about the reporting I was doing and other Guardian journalists were doing on the NSA stories.”
Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows the police to detain anyone at the UK’s borders without any requirement to show probable cause and hold them for up to nine hours, without seeking further justification.
Schedule 7 has a become a blunt legal instrument that the UK government can use to intimidate people who it doesn’t agree with. I think it’s time for the Government to review how it uses Schedule 7. Please join me.
From Leigh Day & Co:
Lawyers vow to fight on after losing part of their battle on overturning the Government’s ‘Bedroom Tax’
Lawyers representing adults and children with disabilities who are challenging the Government’s ‘Bedroom Tax’ have vowed to fight on after today losing part of their High Court battle to halt the controversial new housing benefit regulations that came into force on 1st April this year.
Since 1 April 2013, persons deemed to have 1 spare bedroom have had their housing benefit reduced by 14% and persons deemed to have 2, or more, spare bedrooms have had their housing benefit reduced by 25%. The claimants all argued that these new Housing Benefit rules discriminate against people with disabilities.
The Court accepted that they are discriminatory, but decided that the discrimination was justified and therefore lawful – apart from in cases of disabled children unable to share a bedroom because of their disabilities.
Disabled Children and Bedroom Sharing
The Court found that the Secretary of State has been aware that the law must be changed to provide for disabled children since May 2012, and they were highly critical of his failure to make Regulations to provide for them. Lord Justice Laws said that the current state of affairs “cannot be allowed to continue”.
The Government must now make Regulations “very speedily” to show that there should be “no deduction of housing benefit where an extra bedroom is required for children who are unable to share because of their disabilities.”
The Wider Group
However the Court held that discrimination against adults with disabilities, even those in the same situation to children with disabilities who could not share a room, was justified. Lawyers for adults with disabilities today said that they believe this cannot be right.
They should be entitled to full Housing Benefit for the accommodation they actually need.
Lawyers for adults with disabilities today confirmed that they intend to appeal the ruling, arguing that the discriminatory impact of the measure on people with disabilities cannot be justified and is unlawful.
Disabled children and their families also intend to appeal as they are now left in a position where they do not know whether in fact they are entitled to full housing benefit to meet the costs of the homes that they need.
This is because the Government has declined to confirm that the new Regulations, which the Court says must be made, will cover their situations, or to provide a date by which the new Regulations will be made.
Since the new housing legislation was introduced it has had a devastating effect on many people across the country. Charities, Social Landlords and Advice Agencies have spoken out about the plight of people with disabilities who have been affected by the measure.
3 law firms are representing the Claimants: Hopkin Murray Beskine, Leigh Day and Public Law Solicitors.
Richard Stein from the Human Rights team at Leigh Day said:
“This is a most disappointing result. We will be seeking an urgent appeal to the Court of Appeal. Many people with disabilities including our clients may lose their homes unless the law is changed. Their lives are already difficult enough without the fear of losing their accommodation which has been provided specifically to meet their exceptional needs.”
The Guardian identifies some “puzzling anomalies” in the judgement.
Is justice really blind?
In theory, all forms of legally recognised discrimination (ie discrimination arising from one of the six ”protected characteristics”) are equally serious. Many of us have long suspected that in reality, that isn’t the case and that certain forms of discrimination tend to be taken less seriously than others. For instance, while racism is (thankfully) a complete no-no in the media and in most workplaces, sexism (especially in the form of jokes) is still widely tolerated.
In this context, a look at employment tribunal awards for the various forms of discrimination, makes informative and – for me, at least – quite surprising, reading.
Britain’s leading discrimination law specialist Michael Rubenstein, has just published an analysis (by employment lawyer Innes Clark ) of the Equal Opportunities Review (the ‘EOR‘) annual survey of compensation awards made in discrimination cases, and with their “kind permission” he’s set out the main points, as follows:
By Innes Clarke
The statistics are based on 422 cases either filed by the Employment Tribunal Service in Bury St Edmunds or sent to the EOR by individual lawyers.
The total compensation awarded in the 422 cases was £5,268,597. Discrimination awards are uncapped and the highest award made was £235,825 in the disability discrimination case of Wilebore v Cable & Wireless Worldwide Services Ltd, in which reasonable adjustments were not made for an employee who was returning to work after having treatment for cancer.
The only other award in excess of £100,000 was for £136,592 in an age discrimination case – Dixon v The Croglin Estate Co Limited.
Breakdown of Awards
Of the total amount awarded (£5,268,597), 47% is attributable to awards made for injury to feelings (£2,469,566) with the rest made up of, predominantly, financial loss (i.e. loss of earnings).
The highest awards made for the various categories of discrimination were as follows:-
Protected Characteristic Highest Award
|Religion & belief||£18,600|
I have set out below the median awards for the various strands of discrimination with the 2011 and 2010 figures for comparison purposes.
|Protected Characteristic||Median Award (2012)||Median Award (2011)||Median Award (2010)|
|Religion & belief||£3,000▲||£1,000||£6,976|
|All discrimination awards||£7,500▼||£7,518||£8,000|
An Employment Tribunal can make recommendations as to the steps that the respondent should take to reduce the adverse effect of the discrimination on the claimant. The Tribunal can also make recommendations for the benefit of the wider workforce and not just the particular claimant. In 2012 the Employment Tribunal made recommendations in 30 cases. Of these, 19 included wider recommendations to promote equality in the workplace. The most common wider recommendation was for training to be implemented either on equality or diversity.
It is worth noting that the Government is intending to remove the power of Employment Tribunals to make these wider recommendations which, in my view, is regrettable and appears to be something of a retrograde step.
It should be borne in mind that the statistics relate to a selection of cases which were decided by the Employment Tribunal and do not take into account the many claims that do not reach a full hearing and which, instead, conclude by way of agreed settlement for undisclosed sums.
Clarke notes that the EOR’s report also contains “some very interesting statistics” on the ‘injury to feelings’ element of discrimination awards and promises a further blog on that, shortly. Look out for it at ‘Michael Rubenstein Presents…’
I’m honestly not sure how significant this is, or how worried we should be. GCHQ has been using the information gathered on British citizens. It’s all over today’s Guardian , but the PRISM Power Point slides, as shown to the US National Security Agency, were first revealed to the public by The Washington Post (below):
Through a top-secret program authorized by federal judges working under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the U.S. intelligence community can gain access to the servers of nine Internet companies for a wide range of digital data. Documents describing the previously undisclosed program, obtained by The Washington Post, show the breadth of U.S. electronic surveillance capabilities in the wake of a widely publicized controversy over warrantless wiretapping of U.S. domestic telephone communications in 2005. These slides, annotated by The Washington Post, represent a selection from the overall document, and certain portions are redacted. Read related article.
Introducing the program
A slide briefing analysts at the National Security Agency about the program touts its effectiveness and features the logos of the companies involved.
The program is called PRISM, after the prisms used to split light, which is used to carry information on fiber-optic cables.
This note indicates that the program is the number one source of raw intelligence used for NSA analytic reports.
The seal of Special Source Operations, the NSA term for alliances with trusted U.S. companies.
Monitoring a target’s communication
This diagram shows how the bulk of the world’s electronic communications move through companies based in the United States.
Providers and data
The PRISM program collects a wide range of data from the nine companies, although the details vary by provider.
This slide shows when each company joined the program, with Microsoft being the first, on Sept. 11, 2007, and Apple the most recent, in October 2012.
By David Hirsh
Reblogged from Engage
“When someone is honestly 55% right, that’s very good and there’s no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it’s wonderful, it’s great luck, and let him thank God. But what’s to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever say he’s 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal.”
(A old Jew of Galicia, from: The Captive Mind, by Czeslaw Milosz)
A co-ordinated campaign by Ronnie Fraser, his lawyers and his witnesses to try to intimidate critics of Israel with an invented accusation of antisemitism would indeed be vile and disgraceful. This is what the Tribunal thought was happening, and this explains the unusually intemperate and emotional language employed in its dismissal of Fraser’s case.
Above: David Hirsh
The Tribunal found against Fraser on everything: on technicalities, on legal argument, and on every significant issue of substance and of fact. The Tribunal found everything the UCU said in its defence to be persuasive and it found nothing said by Fraser or any of his witnesses to be of any value. The culture, the practices and the norms inside the union were found to be not antisemitic, either in intent or in effect. Indeed, everything that Fraser and his witnesses experienced as antisemitic, the Tribunal judged to have been entirely appropriate. In particular what was appropriate was the way that union staff, rules, structures and bodies operated. Fraser said that there was a culture in which antisemitism was tolerated but the Tribunal did not accept that even one out of the very many stories that it was told was an indicator of antisemitism.
Instead the Tribunal found that “at heart” the case represented “an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means… ” (para 178). What political end? The only possible political end is an attempt to defeat or silence campaigns against Israel. This would certainly be impermissible in an Employment Tribunal, which is rightly concerned with issues such as antisemitism, outlined in the Equalities Act.
Of course the fight against antisemitism is also political. But this cannot be the kind of politics to which the Tribunal objected. If it was, then it would find every allegation of racism, sexism or homophobia to be impermissible, because political. Opposition to antisemitic politics has always been central to campaigns against antisemitism.
The Tribunal makes clear that it meant that Fraser was trying to mobilize a bad-faith allegation of antisemitism in order to silence good-faith critics of Israel when it goes on in the next paragraph: “We are also troubled by the implications of the claim. Underlying it we sense a worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression….” The Tribunal says that Fraser was trying to fool it into outlawing and branding criticism of Israel as antisemitic. Of course, every racist claims that anti-racists disregard their right to free speech. True, sometimes the Tribunal appears to veer towards the view that those who complain of antisemitism are simply over-sensitive and lacking in objective judgment. But the central findings, that this is politics dressed up as litigation, and that this is an attempt to disallow free criticism, are allegations of bad faith.
Anybody who has been following the story within the union will be aware that the response of the Tribunal is precisely the same as the response with which opponents of antisemitism and of the boycott campaign were faced within the union. The Tribunal backs the union’s way of thinking about antisemitism 100%. The experience of going to the Tribunal, it turns out, is more of the same experience about which Fraser appealed to the Tribunal in the first place.
Fraser said that the key mode of intimidation in the UCU was a constant allegation of bad faith – the allegation that Jews who say they feel antisemitism are actually lying for Israel. The Tribunal replied that the Jews who say they feel antisemitism are actually lying for Israel – they are dressing up a political end as a problem of racist exclusion. In other words, the Tribunal answers that the accusation of bad faith made against Jews who say that they experienced antisemitism is appropriate. The Tribunal employed The Livingstone Formulation.
Fraser argued that there were a large number of incidents which should be understood as exemplifying a culture whereby antisemitism was accepted as normal within the union. Fraser called 34 witnesses to tell the Tribunal about the antisemitism which they had seen. I want to start my own response to the judgment by outlining a number of the incidents which the Tribunal were told about in detail:
In 2006 Ronnie Fraser stood as a delegate to NATFHE conference (a predecessor to UCU). It was said at the regional meeting that Fraser could not be a delegate because he was a Zionist and therefore a racist. NATFHE held an investigation and found that this statement had not been antisemitic.
Israel has been relentlessly condemned at every UCU Congress, often by motions to boycott Israel. There were no motions to boycott any other states.
The Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism reported that the boycott debates were likely to cause difficulties for Jewish academics and students, to exclude Jews from academic life and to have a detrimental effect on Jewish Studies. UCU responded that these allegations were made to stop people from criticizing Israel. 76 members of the UCU published a critique of the union’s response, but the union took no notice. John Mann MP told the Tribunal that UCU had been unique among those criticized by the inquiry in its refusal to listen.
Sean Wallis, a local UCU official, said that anti-boycott lawyers were financed by “bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can’t be tracked down”. Ronnie Fraser asked him whether he had indeed made this antisemitic claim. Wallis admitted having said it. But it was Fraser who, for the crime of asking, was found to have violated union rules concerning “rude or offensive communications”.
Gert Weisskirchen, responsible for combating antisemitism for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) asked the union leadership for a meeting to discuss antisemitism relating to the boycott. The union did not meet with him. When 39 union members protested publicly, the union ignored them.
The union invited South African Trade Unionist Bongani Masuku to speak at a pro-boycott conference in London. Masuku was known to be under investigation by the South African Human Rights Commission for antisemitic hate speech. Here is an example of what he had said: “Bongani says hi to you all as we struggle to liberate Palestine from the racists, fascists and Zionists who belong to the era of their friend Hitler! We must not apologise, every Zionist must be made to drink the bitter medicine they are feeding our brothers and sisters in Palestine”. Masuku also said that vigilante action would be taken against Jewish families suspected of having members serving in the Israeli military, and that Jews who continued to stand up for Israel should “not just be encouraged but forced to leave South Africa” The union ought to have known Masuku’s record. Ronnie Fraser told the union about Masuku’s record. Masuku was found guilty in South Africa of hate speech before speaking as a guest of UCU. And months later, UCU Congress explicitly rejected a motion to dissociate itself from Masuku’s “repugnant views”.
The Activists’ List is an email list hosted by the union.
Ronnie Fraser argued on the list that there was no absolute blockade of Gaza. In response, another union member said that he was like the Nazis at Theresenstadt. The union found that there was nothing inappropriate about this comment. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: EDF’s attempt to look lovable…
Our daughter Claire was one of 21 activists who spent a week up a chimney at West Burton power station to protest against the use of gas-fired power stations.
It was a peaceful protest to draw attention to the environmental consequences of burning fossil fuels for power. No one was hurt but now EDF Energy are suing our daughter and her fellow activists for £5 million.
We believe this is totally unfair and unprecedented. That’s why we have started a petition to call on EDF to drop the suit against our daughter and her friends, the West Burton activists. Click here to sign our petition.
Our daughter and her friends protested peacefully. They knew they would be arrested but were brave enough to accept this possibility. Peaceful protest has never before been followed by an injunction for costs like this. If EDF are successful in this suit it will set a dangerous precedent for the right to peaceful protest in this country.
We are proud of what Claire and her friends are trying to do. It’s heartbreaking to think that they are being punished for putting themselves at risk for the good of humanity. If EDF pursue this suit they will put my daughter and her friends in debt — possibly for the rest of their lives. For EDF it is a mere drop in the ocean, but for them it is a lifetime’s income.
EDF might think it can silence 21 activists but it has to listen to consumers. If enough consumers show they are outraged by EDF’s actions, the impact to the company’s brand will be worth more than £5 million and the suit will be dropped.
Russ and Barbara Fauset
NB: ‘Will EDF become the Barbra Streisand of climate protest?’ – George Monbiot in the Guardian