Unite: sectarian manoeuvres / FRFI 218 Dec 2010 / Jan 2011

FRFI 218 December 2010/January 2011

On 21 November Unite union members elected a new General Secretary, Len McCluskey. Unite advertises itself as ‘a democratic and campaigning union’ but a recent experience in my Newcastle branch meeting gives an indication of why only 16% of members voted in the election of their General Secretary.

As a worker with no active branch, in August I decided to transfer to Newcastle Central branch. In the last year the branch has donated funds to many progressive campaigns, amongst them Rock Around the Blockade, Youth Fight for Jobs, the North East Anarchist and Working Class Book Fayre, Tyneside Community Action Against Racism and the Northern March Against Racism on 20 November. The branch also funded a coach to the rally outside the TUC conference to put pressure on the leadership to take action against the cuts. My experience, both on the coach and in my first branch meeting was of a non-sectarian and democratic branch leadership.

Any illusions in union democracy that anyone could have had were quickly shattered during my second branch meeting on 19 November. There I witnessed a political attack on two progressive independent trade unionists, the branch chair and secretary, by a block of prominent Labour Party members and supporters with the aim of replacing them. The attack was led by Jeff Tate, a paid union official who is apparently also allowed to be a lay member of the branch. How an employee of an organisation can also be represented by that same organisation is beyond me, since if Unite mistreated him as an employee they would also have to defend him as a member. Other members present included two Labour councillors.

Under the cover of an undated, unsigned and incorrectly addressed memo from the outgoing General Secretary, the Labour block claimed new elections were required immediately. The branch chair, Jimmy Warne, clearly explained to members that election terms are for two years and showed us minutes of the elections that had been held only a year ago. However, when the minutes were shown, the arguments of the executioners changed rapidly, instead claiming that elections held in ‘incorrect’ years are equivalent to by-elections in local councils and need to be contested the following year.

Since none of the members of the branch had been informed that elections would be taking place, there was no chance of a democratic election occurring.

A block of people had been drafted in to ensure the removal of two independent activists and replace them with reactionary Labour Party members. We now have a branch where the secretary is a Labour councillor, Helen McStravick, and where the chair is also a Labour councillor, Lesley Spillard, who in her election campaign endorsed a movement against a Traveller site being set up in North Tyneside.




Thank you

I write to show my appreciation for all your kindness and support during my time of difficulty. We need more people like you who are actively trying to help people like me. Please continue with all your good work, because it will have a benefit in the end.


HMP Full Sutton

Rangzieb Ahmed’s appeal against his conviction for terrorism begins at the High Court in London on 30 November. For more about his case see page 13.

Under surveillance

I’m writing to you because for the last few years my family have been under some kind of surveillance. I don’t know exactly what organisation it is but what they have been doing to us amounts to sheer harassment and abuse.

We are being followed wherever we go and I suspect our emails and mobile phones are monitored and our homes are bugged. I know they come to our homes when we are not in – I’ve come home to find the front door open with no sign of a break-in – tamper with our goods, you know, things have been just slightly moved and documents have gone missing. Once I found the box for my house alarm had been ripped out from the wall. Sometimes cars draw up outside and there’s someone there, just watching – but the moment I get a camera out, they drive off.

Sometimes I think even our neighbours have been asked to keep an eye on what we’re doing – they’ll ask me questions about where I’m going, what time I’ll be back, what route I’m taking. A few months ago I was talking to someone about the floods in Pakistan and he suddenly got out his phone and started recording me. What’s going on is very wrong. I’ve written to my MP about it several times, but never had a reply.

Mohammed Pervaiz

(brother of Rangzieb Ahmed)


Independence for West Papua

On 1 December the people of West Papua will celebrate their independence day with mass demonstrations across the country. Tens of thousands will take to the streets in the cities and raise the Morning Star flag, their national symbol of defiance at what they regard as the Indonesian occupation of their country which is supported by Western multinationals. Under Indonesian law, to raise the Morning Star is an act of treason that carries a 15-year jail sentence and many political activists are now in jail for doing just that. On 1 December thousands of people will do it in unison and shout with megaphones in the faces of the police, military and Indonesian administration that they regard as their colonial oppressors for 48 years.

Human rights abuses have been widespread since the United States, with assistance from the UN, orchestrated the trade of West Papua to Indonesia in 1962. West Papuans have never had their political right to a fair referendum on self-determination. The Indonesian government, the US, the UN and the Dutch government have all been complicit in the suppression of the Papuan people and their fundamental rights, whilst the multinational corporations they protect, also complicit in human rights abuses, have been rampantly stealing Papuan land and resources, protected by the Indonesian military that acts with impunity.

A demonstration will be held outside the Indonesian embassy in London in solidarity with the West Papuan people and their right to self-determination on 1 December between 12 noon and 2.30pm; this will be followed by a march to Downing Street to hand in a petition. For more information contact www.freewestpapua.org.

Jonathan Blake

End convictions for joint enterprise

Concerns are being expressed over large numbers of prisoners sentenced to life sentences with long tariffs because of the use of the Joint Enterprise interpretation of the law to convict them. The law of Joint Enterprise was originally brought in 300 years ago to deter those involved in duelling, as the courts could then charge and convict all those present at the scene because they were all complicit in the act.

The police are now using the Joint Enterprise law in the loosest sense to charge and convict groups, often of schoolchildren, for spontaneous acts of violence. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service have portrayed these children as gangsters and brought down the full force of the law on them. Many of the cases should have been no more than manslaughter charges but with the use of media hyperbole and moral panic about ‘feral children’ running around like ‘wolfpacks’ the CJS has caved in to the media and abused the law to prepare cases of murder to gullible juries.

A campaign has been started to highlight this issue and in the first survey some 200 prisoners have replied that they have been unjustly convicted using this law. The Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA) campaign co-ordinator, Gloria Morrison says: ‘This is a lazy law and it appears that it is being used as a form of social and ethnic cleansing by the police.’

According to JENGbA, by using Joint Enterprise, the police and lawyers are taking advantage of the law and convicting many people for a crime committed by one person. In a case that will be coming to court early next year, 21 school children will be charged with murder for a fight in Victoria Station which resulted in a death.

JENGbA says that evidence in many cases is often circumstantial, hearsay and sometimes based on mobile phone cell location, as opposed to actual presence, but life sentences with tariffs up to 33 years have been given when the ‘enterprise’ has been classed as gang activity.

One of the most controversial cases involves a blind 15-year-boy who was convicted of murder for his mere presence at the scene of a spontaneous incident. He was not alleged to have taken part and no weapon was used.

The number of Joint Enterprise cases is not recorded, although a recent question in the House of Lords by Herman Ouseley is seeking to uncover just how widespread its use is.

Any prisoners or families and partners of prisoners who were convicted on the basis of Joint Enterprise should get in touch with JENGbA, 27a Old Gloucester Street, London, WC1N 3AX  www.jointenterprise.co

Mohammed R


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