A foul smell at Britain's unions

By Nick Cohen, October 10, 2011

In a manner that ought to warm every leftish heart, Israeli trade unions emphasise that the class interests of Israeli workers transcend religious differences. The unions are supporting the great wave of protest in Israel against the larcenous increases in the costs of housing, transport, childcare, food and fuel the Likudniks have presided over. Histadrut, Israel's trade union federation, has learned the hard-earned socialist wisdom that when conservative nationalists bellow about their love of country they do not always mean a love of their country's citizens.

Certainly, Histadrut has had moments of shame. Originally, it was a Jews-only union federation. As late as 2009, it was not helping the tens of thousands of Asian and Eastern European migrant workers employed in Israel. But it has been representing Israeli Arabs since 1959 and now fights for the rights of migrants too. It argues for all workers regardless of colour or creed, and has fraternal relations with Palestinian trade unions in the occupied territories.

Forgive the left-wing terminology, which I accept will seem as strange as Linear B (an early form of Greek) to many of you, but there is a reason for dragging up the language of the past. While Histadrut has fraternal relations with Palestinian unions, the Trades Union Congress does not want it to have fraternal relations with British unions.

In a motion which offered de facto support to the Gaddafi dictatorship (the TUC condemned the NATO operation to remove it from power) and ignored the plight of Afghan women and democrats (it wanted Western troops out and the Taliban back in), the TUC ordered its members to review links with their Israeli comrades.

The hostility it offered to the Israelis was as noteworthy as the indulgence it granted to ultra-reactionaries. Without a blush, the TUC and the wider European Socialist International once embraced the stool pigeon unions of the Arab dictators. Yet now it toys with severing all ties with a free trade union movement that is fighting for the rights of its members, and does not worry that the only free trade union movement in the world it would dream of treating so shabbily is the one that contains large numbers of Jews.

It argues for all workers regardless of colour or creed

TUC leaders tell me not to fret. After the vote, they issued a reasonable statement condemning Israeli crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and Palestinian crimes against Israelis. "The motion was unfortunate," one said, "but it was just the far left playing games".

I wondered why he viewed a far left that was adapting the prejudices of the far right with such equanimity, but recognised his argument because I have heard it all my life. In the early 1980s when I was a union officer at the Birmingham Post & Mail, a comrade put forward a resolution calling on all West Midlands journalists to strike against an editorial in the Wolverhampton Express & Star that had made disobliging remarks about a black suspect who had died in a fight with police officers.

I said that my colleagues would never strike because they believed that editors were free to say what they wanted in editorials, and in any case the dispute had nothing to do with improving their terms and conditions. "Quiet Nick," a friend said. "We just pass these resolutions. We don't expect anyone to follow them."

I don't think we should be quiet anymore, because something foul is growing. Just as the Israeli unions were once Arab-free, so British unions behave as if they wish to be Judenfrei. The University and College Union – which represents intellectuals and so, inevitably, is the dumbest and nastiest organisation on the Left – refuses to accept any definition of antisemitism for fear that defining prejudice would restrict its attacks on Israel. No Jewish academic, who is a victim of racism, can turn to it for support. Under pressure from the Islamists and their allies, other unions will soon be doing the same.

Members are walking away in disgust, as they always do when the cretino-left takes over. In my small way, I'm joining the exodus, even though I know that the British like Israeli Jews and Arabs need trade unions now more than at any time since the 1970s. I was due to speak at a TUC rally this month but have pulled out.

I know it is a pointless protest and that it is silly to respond to a boycott with a boycott but I do not wish to be seen at the TUC. There is a bad smell about the place, and its leaders are not trying hard enough to fumigate the room.

Last updated: 2:45pm, October 10 2011