Last year, the former Liverpool dock worker "Red Len" McCluskey was re-elected as general secretary of Unite, one of Britain's biggest trade unions. Whether any of Brother McCluskey's pronouncements on anything can be said to reflect the views of Unite's membership must, however, be open to doubt. At his re-election, the turnout was just under 16 per cent, which means that he can claim the support of less than 10 per cent of the total membership.
But that has certainly not dampened his enthusiasm for making public pronouncements on a wide range of issues, some of which strike me as having nothing whatever to do with the well-being of the membership at large but everything to do with McCluskey's personal political creed - namely, a militant socialism that harbours among its defining characteristics a visceral anti-Zionism.
In January 2013, McCluskey made a series of outrageous allegations against Israel, which he accused of "terrorising" the entire population of Gaza during Operation Pillar of Defence.
As the JC reported at the time, he claimed that the conflict in Gaza had been triggered by "the illegal assassination of Palestinian leaders." But he made absolutely no mention of the thousands of rockets launched from Gaza against Israeli civilians. Then McCluskey attempted to back-track, claiming that Unite was no friend of Hamas, and drawing attention (quite rightly) to its persecution of Palestinian trade unions. But he added, for good measure, that "the strength of opinion among British trade unionists is such that they will not stand idly by when the combined weight of IDF weaponry rains down on a largely defenceless and undefended people in Gaza."
There the matter rested until July 11 last, when Unite issued a "statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people," which, although it did not carry McCluskey's personal signature (unlike the January 2013 statement) can only have been made with his imprimatur. "Unite unreservedly condemns the continuing Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people and calls … on the UK government to demand the Israeli government halt its military action and to make it clear that should it fail to do so then a move for international sanctions will be launched within the United Nations Security Council and the European Union."
The statement condemned the murder of three Israeli youths, but implied, wrongly, that Israel's offensive against Gaza was by way of retaliation for these killings, rather than a reaction to Hamas rockets.
It is worth reminding ourselves that two days before the publication of the Unite statement, the launching of rockets against civilian targets in Israel was condemned as "a crime against humanity" by no less an authority than Ibrahim Khreisheh, the Palestinian representative on the UN Human Rights Council. But Unite was having none of it. There was, it is true, one reference in Unite's statement to missiles from Gaza; but this lethal ordnance was mentioned merely to dismiss it as unimportant. What was condemned was "Israeli-state racism and apartheid … ethnic cleansing [and] … Israel's systematic violations of international law and Palestinian human rights." The statement ended with a call for a boycott against the Jewish state.
In the great scheme of things, these views of Unite and its loud-mouth, anti-Zionist general secretary are of little importance. But McCluskey and his union played a major part in the election of Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour Party four years ago. Unite's money is important to Labour as it hones its strategy for the general election next year. Never mind about the so-called Jewish influences on Miliband. At the end of the day, Miliband is beholden to Labour's paymasters, among which Unite is very prominent. Little wonder, therefore, that in a recent email Miliband's office should have echoed Unite's view of the causes of the present conflict in Gaza. Yes, the firing of rockets into Israel must cease. But "the loss of life … of Palestinian children and civilians … cannot be justified."
On the responsibility of Hamas for these deaths the email - issued from Miliband's office - was totally silent.