Gaza One, Miami Five: it just doesn’t add up

Unite’s failure to campaign for Gilad Shalit raises questions about its objectivity

By Eric Lee, August 13, 2009

If you visit the website of Britain’s largest trade union, Unite, you’ll find a list of campaigns the union supports. Those campaigns are almost always the kinds of things you’d expect the giant manufacturing trade union to support, such as saving jobs at Vauxhall, building affordable housing, and protecting the NHS.

But in the middle of all these there’s one campaign that seems a bit out of place – a campaign in support of the Miami Five, who are Cuban spies jailed in the USA.

The Cubans were by their own admission in the USA spying on anti-Castro Cubans. They were arrested by the FBI and convicted in court of charges including being agents of a foreign power, which they don’t deny.

According to Unite, they were battling terrorism; the union mentions the “73 people killed when a Cuban airline was blown up mid-air in 1976 – the world’s first terrorist attack on an airline.” (Some of us might disagree, noting numerous Palestinian terrorist attacks on international airliners before then).

Still, for many on the left, the Miami Five are martyrs, political prisoners, even prisoners of conscience. As the British union puts it: “The Miami Five were acting to defend their country and have paid an enormous price.”
One may feel sympathetic to the Cubans or not, but what is striking is the utter lack of sympathy the Left has shown for another prisoner held captive for years in intolerable conditions who was also “acting to defend his country” — the Gaza One, Gilad Shalit.

The trade unions backing the Miami Five campaign are furious that the prisoners “spent their first 17 months in solitary confinement”.

Shalit has spent more than twice that time in solitary confinement and under conditions infinitely worse than those experienced by the Miami Five.

The union also claims that family visiting rights were “routinely restricted” — which is a lot better than what the family of Gilad Shalit is getting from his Hamas captors. Unite’s joint general secretary Tony Woodley says: “To deny families the right to visit their loved ones is totally inhumane. Two of the wives have not seen their husbands for eight years.”

No member of Gilad Shalit’s family has seen him for 39 months.

The union suspects that there’s more at play in the Miami case than just a criminal issue. “Unite believes the US are using these five men and their families to make a political point,” they say.

Hamas is certainly using Shalit in that way.

Unite reports that Amnesty International has called for humane treatment for the Miami Five and for family visits to be allowed.

But the union doesn’t report that Amnesty has also called for Gilad Shalit to be treated humanely, noting that: “We believe that Gilad Shalit should be treated humanely as a prisoner of war and allowed visits from the Red Cross.”

Regardless of what one thinks of the Miami Five (and a pretty strong case can be made that men who worked for Castro’s intelligence services spying on the dictator’s enemies were, well, spies) I can see the argument for treating them humanely.

Equally, surely even those on the left and in the unions who oppose Israeli policy would, from the same humanitarian motives, call for decent treatment for Gilad Shalit. But this is not the case. There is not a word about Shalit on the Unite website.

Unite might claim that the case of the Miami Five is an international cause celebre. After all, a search on Google for “Miami 5” produces 566,000 results. But Gilad Shalit’s international profile is even higher — nearly 600,000 results.

So here is my question Unite’s joint leaders, Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley: Why is your union campaigning for humane treatment and the release of the Miami Five and ignoring the case of Gilad Shalit?

Eric Lee is the editor of LabourStart

Last updated: 1:55pm, August 14 2009


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