By Roland Wright
A decade ago Paul Hutcheon was an investigative reporter. But now he just hunts with the pack.
Could the decline in the paper’s circulation be in anyway related to the decline in the quality of its journalism?
“Leading Labour MSP Urged to Resign After Taking Part in Unite Demo Outside Director’s House,” read the headline above an article by Hutchinson in yesterday’s edition of the paper.
Over five weeks after the event, the giant inflatable rat used in a Unite protest outside the house of an Ineos director had made a comeback: “Smith was one of 13 people pictured. He was standing next to the rat.”
Hutcheon’s use of the hack-journalist technique of guilt-by-association was positively breathtaking. It ran as follows:
The rat was next to Drew Smith who was next to his aide Michael Sharpe who is the son of Cathie Jamieson MP who is part of Ed Ball’s shadow treasury team at Westminster.
Sharpe, luckily for him, was not standing next to the rat. He was “holding a placard.” A very unconventional activity for someone taking part in … a protest.
Not that Hutcheon actually refers to the event as a protest. Deploying his wordsmith skills to the utmost, he writes instead of “the Unite trade union’s notorious ‘leverage’ demo.”
Another problematic aspect to the article was that Smith was not actually taking part in the protest (not that there would have been anything wrong with his participating, especially given that he is chair of the Labour Trade Union Group in Holyrood.)
The Unite protest coincided with the Dunfermline by-election campaign for the Holyrood seat left vacant after the resignation of the incumbent SNP MSP.
Along with two of his aides, Smith happened to be distributing Labour by-election leaflets on the estate where the Unite protest was taking place.
This certainly makes a mockery of the anonymous “senior party source” quoted by Hutcheon: “A trade unionist with any sense would not have gone within a hundred miles of that protest.”
Clearly, there wouldn’t have been much point in distributing leaflets calling for a Labour vote in the Dunfermline by-election over a hundred miles away in Inverness.
But the bigger problem with the article is the headline reference to Smith being “urged to resign.” By whom was he being “urged to resign”?
Why, none other than Eric Joyce MP!
That’s the Falkirk MP with the chequered history of drunken brawls in the House of Commons and Edinburgh Airport, dalliances with a 17-year-old schoolgirl, drink-driving, refusing to take a breathalyser test, and record claims for parliamentary expenses.
When it comes to speaking out about parliamentarians who should resign, Joyce clearly commands no small degree of authority on such matters! In a comment unlikely to endear him to local councillors, Joyce said:
“The image of a Labour shadow cabinet member smiling as he takes part in a leverage squad outside someone’s home is thoroughly nauseating. He should resign immediately.”
“The Scottish shadow cabinet doesn’t feel like a serious prospect at the moment. Members are content to operate at the level of the local councillor which some of them remain.”
A non-story about a man who stood next to a giant inflatable rat over five weeks ago?
It’s hardly investigative journalism. In fact, it’s not even news.
Guest post by Dale Street
Above: fearsome, isn’t it?
It’s been a busy week for media hacks who hate trade unionists. And what better opportunity for hacks to vent their spleen than the fallout from the Ineos dispute in Grangemouth?
The Sunday Times (27th October) led the way with lengthy articles about the contents of e-mails sent or received by former Unite Ineos convenor Stevie Deans.
A dossier of these e-mails had been “passed to police last week”. But subsequent press coverage suggested that the e-mails had also been passed on to half of Fleet Street. And the source of the “dossier” was Ineos itself – hardly a disinterested party in the matter.
The opening sentence in the Sunday Times front-page article had all the right buzzwords: “Ed Miliband is facing a crisis this weekend as a cache of bombshell e-mails expose a concerted union plot involving blah, blah, blah.”
Only the word “sinister” was missing. But this was the Sunday Times, not the Sun.
A few paragraphs into article, however, the “crisis” eased off to become mere “pressure” (“… Miliband is facing pressure …”). And by the end of the article the crisis-cum-pressure turned out to be no more than a rent-a-quote from a Tory MP in Crawley called Smith.
Pages ten and eleven carried a lengthy article about the e-mails, headlined with the lurid quote: “A Blueprint of How to Hijack a Constituency”
On closer inspection, however, the quote turned out to emanate from a “company insider” whose qualifications for making such a judgement remained as unknown as the insider’s name.
To be fair to “company insider”, what he/she actually said was: “It looks like a blueprint …” But even that still begs the question of what, if any, expertise the “company insider” had to be able to conclude that the e-mails “looked like” a blueprint for a CLP takeover.
The article made great play of the figure of “a thousand e-mails” (or, alternatively, “a thousand e-mails and attachments”). But this turned out to include e-mails (and attachments) received as well as sent, and covers a period of eleven months.
Nor was there any mention of the whether the e-mails had been dealt with during or outside working hours.
In terms of the e-mails’ contents and volume, there was certainly little or nothing in the article to give weight to the claim by “company insider” that “Deans spent most of last summer organising his union’s infiltration of the Labour Party.”
This weekend’s Sunday Times (3rd November) continued its attacks on Unite, this time in the shape of three articles and an editorial focusing on the Labour Party report into allegations of vote-rigging by Unite in Falkirk.
“Revealed: Milband’s Dossier on Union Plot” read the headline over the front-page article, while a spread on pages 14/15 appeared under the headline “The Secret ‘Vote-Rigging’ Report Labour Suppressed”.
The headlines suggest that the newspaper had obtained a copy of the report. So too do the opening paragraphs of the articles:
“Secret contents of the report are revealed today. They lay bare the shocking conclusions of the enquiry into alleged electoral corruption in the brutal battle by Unite to sieze control of the safe Labour seat of Falkirk.”
In fact, the paper had a Unite document (discovered in Stevie Deans’ “cache of bombshell e-mails”) which appears to be an early draft of the union’s response to the Labour Party report.
The Sunday Times articles re-quoted the various Labour Party allegations quoted in the Unite document. But it did not quote a single one of Unite’s response to those allegations.
This was despite the fact that the article acknowledged that the Unite document was “deeply critical of the Labour Party investigation, which, it says, draws conclusions on the basis of little or no hard evidence.”
(Rather like the Sunday Times article itself.)
In fact, the article even conceded in the small print that “Unite rebuts all the claims in its document”, and that the Unite document contained “a line-by-line rebuttal of the (Labour Party) allegations”.
Such poor-quality one-sided ‘journalism’ did at least display a fine sense of timing: Falkirk CLP was meeting the same day, and the Scottish press had been ‘reporting’ that a motion of no-confidence in Stevie Deans as CLP chair would be proposed at the meeting.
(This was based on various anonymous statements by “a key figure in Falkirk CLP”, “another local party member” and “sources at the local party”. Given that these articles had appeared several days before the CLP meeting, this hardly constituted ‘reporting’ in the normal sense of the word.)
“Miliband will now come under intense pressure to re-open the inquiry and publish its report,” continued the Sunday Times article. But what happened to the crisis-cum-pressure which Miliband was supposedly already facing the previous weekend?
In fact, the only sign of this “intense pressure” in the pages of the newspaper was its own editorial – insofar as a Sunday Times editorial counts as “intense pressure”. The paper hadn’t even been able to get a rent-a-quote from a Crawley Tory MP called Smith.
While the Sunday Times focused on a report which it had never even seen, the mid-week issues of the Daily Mail focused on the terrors of a giant inflatable rat.
A “sinister unit” (Unite’s Organising and Leverage Department) sent “mobs of protestors” to the homes of Ineos directors as part of a “campaign of bullying and intimidation” intended to “humiliate executives and their families”.
“It was a mob, a threatening mob,” explained a Dunfermline-based Ineos director who described how “25 Unite members protested on his driveway with flags, banners and an inflatable rat. … Children as young as seven who were playing on the street were coaxed into joining the mob.”
The article was accompanied by a grainy picture of the “threatening mob”. But the picture gives the lie to the substance of the article.
There is no “threatening mob”. There are simply some Unite members standing around. They are not on the driveway. They are on the pavement. They are not threatening anyone. (In fact, not only was chanting banned on the protest, so too was smoking.)
There is certainly a giant inflatable rat in the picture. But it looks as fearsome as Mr. Blobby on a bad day. As for children being “coaxed” into the joining the non-existent “mob”, if a giant inflatable rat suddenly appears at the bottom of your road, natural curiosity is going to attract the average seven-year-old to take a closer look.
In a follow-up article the Daily Mail reported that the previously unheard-of Jonathan Roberts had resigned from Unite “in disgust after the Daily Mail’s revelation about the union’s bullying tactics.”
Bang on cue, Roberts, who stood for Labour in the safe Tory seat on Thirsk and Malton in the last general election, attacked Unite for “picketing the family homes of company bosses and intimidating their children” and for generally failing to represent its members.
Of course, there had never been any evidence – not even in the lurid pages of the Sunday Times or the Daily Mail – that Unite members were “intimidating children”.
But what did facts count for when the sole concern of such newspapers was to whip up an anti-Unite hysteria on the back of the threat by a billionaire tax-exile to shut down Grangemouth unless his workforce, their union, and the Scottish and British governments gave him everything he wanted?
Not that there might be anything in Jim Ratcliffe’s behaviour, of course, which might merit closer investigation by the fearless journalists of the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail.
Given the scale of the defeat, and the massive political implications for the left and for trade unionism as a whole, we make no apologies for a further post on Grangemouth.
A comrade writes:
The ‘offical’ Unite line on Grangemouth seems to be:
A more sophisticated version of the above can be found in an unsigned article on the STUC website, which uses the theme of ‘the demise of the industrial correspondent’ as a way of explaining the chain of events which led to Unite’s decision to accept the new terms and conditions. The article has clearly been written by someone with ‘inside knowledge’. It’s equally clear from the article, assuming that it is accurate on this point (and I think that it is), that the convenors (and, by extension, the shop stewards committee) took the decision to accept the new terms and conditions (i.e. it was not a decision imposed on them by McCluskey, and certainly not by the Unite Scottish Regional Secretary Pat Rafferty, who is incapable of imposing anything on anyone).
Above: workers react to news that the plant will remain open
By Dale Street, from the Workers Liberty website
The enormity of the defeat suffered by Unite at Ineos in Grangemouth is virtually impossible to exaggerate.
For the workforce the new terms and conditions mean a major cut in their terms and conditions of employment. Jobs will be axed (for sub-contractors as well as for Ineos staff). And Ineos workers have been left defenceless against further attacks in the future.
Ineos has got its way on everything. Basic pay will be frozen until the end of 2016. There will be no bonus payments until then either. The shift allowance is being cut from £10,000 to £7,500. Overtime rates and holiday entitlements are being cut as well.
Contractual redundancy pay is being replaced by the statutory minimum, and the final salary pension scheme is being replaced by a defined contributions one. Workers will pay higher contributions in exchange for a worse pension.
The scope of collective bargaining with the recognised union (Unite) is being cut back. Full-time convenors are to be replaced by part-time ones. And Unite has agreed not to engage in any industrial action for the next three years.
According to some press reports, the new terms and conditions also include mandatory overtime which may be unpaid, a higher retirement age, and Ineos to have the right to alter terms and conditions as they see fit in the absence of consultation.
But the knock-on effects of the defeat go well beyond the Ineos workforce itself.
Unite, it should be remembered, balloted its members for strike action in defence of plant convenor Stevie Deans. It gave Ineos notice of a 48-hour strike (subsequently withdrawn). And it successfully campaigned for members to vote against the Ineos “survival plan”.
With only a few exceptions, Unite is now the object of a sustained tirade of abuse in the mainstream media, in articles by political commentators, in the comment section of online media, on websites, and in a host of other forums. Unite is targeted not for having eventually agreed to the Ineos ultimatum but for having stood up for Stevie Deans, for not having accepted Ineos’ demands at the outset, and for having exposed and denounced Ratcliffe’s economic and social thuggery.
Typical – and far from the most vituperative – examples:
“On Wednesday night workers across the UK who are Unite members would have been saying ‘what the hell is my union doing? Will they screw up my job too? ’ Common sense has prevailed at last. Unite has lost all credibility, and justly so.”
“Just goes to show the ‘all brothers out’ militant union attitude of the seventies is out of place in 21st century Britain. A small group of union enforcers got eviscerated by Ineos while the membership were given a lesson in reality. Job done!”
“What the hell was Unite thinking of? When did absolutely nowt become preferable to a regular paycheck? One of Unite’s top people for Labour Party selection rigging worked there, and he had to be protected over the interests of his 799 co-workers.”
In the context of it being “open season” on Unite, comments posted by local MP Eric Joyce – Labour, until thrown out of the party – merit special mention:
“The unions need to engage with the situation properly, not fanny around making stupid political gestures. Unite called a strike over a pathetic and petty issue related to Labour Party internal politics.
“By the time the union woke up to the reality workers faced, it was too late. Workers at Ineos need proper union representation – right now, they are getting the fumbling, dumbed-down, politicised opposite.
“Ed Miliband seems to have been bounced into an anti-employer position when it’s clear that Unite had handled the dispute appallingly. He needs to step in now and make it clear that Unite needs to start operating like a serious trade union.”
Last weekend’s Sunday Times also reported that a thousand Unite internal e-mails had been handed to the police, allegedly revealing “a concerted union plot involving threats, intimidation and dirty tricks” to “thwart” the Labour Party inquiry into claims that the Falkirk parliamentary selection process had been rigged by Unite.
Under the headline “Ineos to Sack Union Boss”, another article in the Sunday Times reported that it was “expected” that Ineos would sack Unite convenor Stevie Deans on the basis of allegations that he had spent time as union convenor on Labour Party work.
In recent months Stevie has been: suspended and reinstated by the Labour Party; investigated by the police, who found no case to answer; suspended and re-instated by Ineos; subjected to three different investigations by the company; witch-hunted in the press; and scapegoated for Ineos’ decision to threaten closure of Grangemouth.
Then, in the midst of disciplinary proceedings, his anti-union employer handed over to the anti-union police and the anti-union Sunday Times a dossier of Stevie’s e-mails, allowing anti-union Tory MPs from the other end of Britain to call for the Labour Party and the police to re-open their investigations into Stevie.
Britain’s biggest union is under concerted attack from every element in British society possessed of a visceral hostility to trade unionism and to the right of trade unions to demand political representation from the party which they founded. Read the rest of this entry »
From Tony Burke:
You will have seen in the media the dispute at the Ineos Refinery and Chemicals plant in Grangemouth Scotland.
Unite members are under attack by their own company who are attempting to impose new terms on conditions on the workforce, ending the company pension scheme, taking disciplinary action against one of our convenors, Steve Deans. The company say they are losing money and need to make changes. Unite has called off any industrial action at the site to allow talks to take place. However, the company continue to issue ultimatums to members, telling them to sign a “survival plan” or they face losing their jobs over the last weekend. Our reps in attempting to find a just resolution have been faced with abuse by irresponsible management.
TSSA Sacking: “A Stain On Our Movement As A Whole”
A guest post by Anthony White
A mailing was sent out last week to all Trades Union Councils in Scotland, calling on them to adopt policy condemning the dismissal of Stan Crooke as the TSSA’s Scottish Regional Organiser and demanding his reinstatement.
Stan Crooke was summarily dismissed by the TSSA – a small union with 22,000 members (but four Assistant General Secretaries) – in mid-July. But he was not informed of the outcome of his appeal against dismissal until September.
The mailing, sent out by his Unite union branch, was the latest step in a campaign which has already won support from Unite and GMB branches in Glasgow, the Glasgow/Renfrewshire Unite Area Activists Committee and Glasgow Trades Union Council.
The motion passed by Glasgow TUC committed the Trades Council to:
- Write to the TSSA General Secretary and all members of the TSSA Executive Committee, condemning Stan Crooke’s dismissal and demanding his re-instatement.
- Circulate to all Trades Council affiliates and delegates the leaflet about his dismissal produced by his Unite branch.
- Write to the STUC General Secretary, asking for the issue of Stan Crooke’s dismissal to be an item on the next meeting of the STUC General Council.
Last week also saw solicitors submit an Employment Tribunal claim for Stan Crooke for unfair dismissal.
This means that despite the pro-employer bias built into employment law, the solicitors (contracted by Unite to represent Unite members in Scotland) are of the opinion that it is more likely than not that a Tribunal will conclude that Stan Crooke was unfairly dismissed by the TSSA.
According to a leaflet produced and circulated by Stan Crooke’s Unite branch, headlined “A Summary Dismissal That Demeans Trade Unionism and All We Stand For”:
“Any trade union activists experienced in representing members would rightly condemn this treatment (of Stan Crooke) as a catalogue of abuses of disciplinary procedure and employment law by the employer.”
“We share the concerns of TSSA members that the behaviour of their union as an employer is at odds with the role TSSA reps play in defending their members against similar behaviour by their employers.”
“We call on activists in Unite and throughout the trade union movement to support the demand of TSSA members for the reinstatement of their Scottish Regional Organiser.”
“For any employer to behave in such a manner is bad enough. But when the employer is a trade union, it is a stain on our movement as a whole.”
The ongoing campaigning in opposition to Stan Crooke’s dismissal coincides with difficulties faced by TSSA bosses on other fronts.
In September the planned merger between the TSSA and Unite collapsed. (Strictly speaking, given the disparity in size between the TSSA (22,000 members) and Unite (1.4 million members), it was to have been a “transfer of engagements” rather than a merger.)
This was the third time in eighteen months that attempts by the TSSA to merge with another union have failed – with the RMT in March of 2012, and with Community in early 2013.
Then, earlier this month, The Sunday Times published an article (£) headlined: “’Chauvinist’ Union’s Lap-dancing and Lies” in which the TSSA’s last President alleged that the TSSA suffered from a culture of misogyny and bullying:
“She claims she was repeatedly browbeaten by an overbearing baron who was unhappy in his well-paid role, pressurised not to stand for re-election to her post to clear the path for male colleagues, and subjected to a whispering campaign designed to derail her attempt to get re-elected.”
“Her most serious allegation, though, relates to an attempt by union cronies to secure a substantial pay-off for a disaffected male colleague. …”
A succession of failed merger talks. A string of public denunciations by a former President. A pending unfair dismissal claim which has already received widespread publicity in the Scottish trade union movement. And possible job cuts after the latest failed would-be merger.
This sorry record makes it all the more important that TSSA reps and members receive support in the workplace from their counterparts in other unions: the failings of the TSSA leadership cannot be allowed to become an opportunity for employers to undermine rank-and-file trade unionism.
For more information about the reinstatement campaign and/or copies of the leaflet produced by Stan Crooke’s Unite branch, e-mail: email@example.com
Enjoy your little moment of shameless piggy-backing, Fish-heid…
…before it all goes “tits up”:
From The Scotsman (31/03/13):
HE FEARS for his country. Tennis star Andy Murray yesterday warned Scots not to make an emotional snap decision on going independent because it might go “tits up”.
The World No 3 made his colourful intervention in the independence debate in a wide-ranging interview.
But although the Dunblane-raised sportsman did not indicate which way he will vote in next year’s referendum, he made clear that his head would rule his heart.
“You need to figure out what’s best for the country and then come to an opinion,” he said. “I want to read more about the issue. I don’t think you should judge the thing on emotion, but on what is best economically for Scotland. You don’t want to come to a snap decision and then see the country go tits up.”
P.S; Murray’s words yesterday:
“I understand how much everyone else wanted to see a British winner at Wimbledon, so I hope you guys enjoyed that. I tried my best.”