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Fremantle care workers need solidarity - and so does LabourStart

The management bullying of Fremantle Trust towards workers in Barnet is well known. Not content with cutting pay and imposing worse terms and conditions on staff, Fremantle have sacked a union rep, Andrew Rogers, simply for playing a leading role in organising a fightback against the company.

But now they've gone one further. LabourStart, the union news information website, was running a campaign of email solidarity with the Fremantle workers, following a request from UNISON, which enabled supporters of the Fremantle workers to email the Chief Executive of Fremantle Trust in protest at the unilateral imposition of new terms and conditions on workers in Barnet. Under pressure from this campaign, Fremantle again lashed out - and became the first employer organisation anywhere in the world to initiate legal action against LabourStart. When Eric Lee, who runs the LabourStart site, refused to halt his support for the Fremantle workers, the threats were directed towards the Internet Service Provider hosting the LabourStart site.

When the ISP announced that they would take the LabourStart site off-line, Eric decided reluctantly to take the Fremantle campaign off the LabourStart site. But it has been re-born, and now has a website all to itself, at Eric says,

"Already, well over 8,100 messages have been sent to the employer. This is
even bigger than our 2005 campaign in support of the Gate Gourmet workers,
which was a much more widely publicized dispute in the mainstream media.

"As we mentioned in this week's message, the employer reacted swiftly and
brutally -- first threatening us with a libel action in the English courts
and then sacking a union rep. And then on Thursday, in an unprecedented move, the employer (Fremantle
Trust) contacted our internet service provider and demanded that they shut
down the campaign or else face a lawsuit themselves.

"We were contacted by the legal department of the internet service provider
and told that we had until noon on Friday to close down the campaign or
else the entire LabourStart site would be shut down.

"We worked very hard over those 24 hours to attempt to get our provider to
back down, and had the full support of Unison (Britain's giant public
sector union, whose members are at the center of the dispute) but were not
successful in doing this before the noon deadline on Friday.

"As a result, at 11:59 on Friday we were compelled to shut down the
campaigns. But -- we instantly revived the campaign in nine languages on a different
server, in a different country, with a new name that reflects our feeling
at this time."

Any threat of legal action directed against LabourStart is an attempt to silence those who seek to use the internet in support of workers and our right to organise. It must be resisted. I hope every UNISON member will now step up their efforts to support the Fremantle workers, and also ensure that LabourStart is defended from any further threats of legal action. It's a disgrace, but not a very suprising one, that the ISP in question were prepared to engage in political censorship in order to get themselves off the hook with the scumbags at Fremantle.

There are two ironies here, for people who like that sort of thing. One is that LabourStart have, over the last few years, taken on all sorts of evil corporate empires, profit-hungry multi-nationals and so on, and not one of them has responded to an on-line solidarity campaign with threats of legal action. No it took the "caring", non-profit, Fremantle Trust to do that. I guess there's a lesson here about the relative merits of non-profits as employers, and anyone who thinks that the new Labour promotion of such 'third-way' enterprises for public services is a good thing should reflect long and hard on this latest twist to the saga.

Secondly, of course, LabourStart has been unwittingly at the centre of a recent debate in UNISON about Israel. UNISON members who supported the idea of a boycott of Israeli and zionist institutions have successfully blocked moves inside UNISON for LabourStart to receive funding, because they object to the politics of LabourStart's founding editor, Eric Lee. They have also succeeded in getting UNISON conference to vote through a motion calling for a boycott of Israel and Israelis, ostensibly in support of the cause of the Palestinians, although those of us who opposed the boycott expressed grave doubts as to what good it would do. Now we have LabourStart playing an important role in a crucial UNISON dispute, at the request of the union. For my money, this just shows that the union leadership had no intention of actually carrying out the boycott decision, but that means the whole debate at conference was dishonest. I hope LabourStart's role in this campaign will help to set the groundwork for the boycott motion to be overturned next conference.

UNISON refuses to fund LabourStart due to Eric

Hi Nick
Sorry, but your report about UNISON not supporting Labourstart due to Eric does not make any sense. You have also appeared to have got it wrong about the motion passed at UNISON conference over “boycotts”. This post is also pretty unhelpful to the Fremantle campaign (in my own view). Do you any evidence that UNISON have refused to support Labourstart because of Eric? If so let me know and I will take it up. I was recently in touch with Eric over Fremantle and he didn't make any complaints about UNISON? I’ll email him tonight about this.

John Gray
(Personal capacity)

Yes, I'm sure

Hi John,

Thanks for visiting. You don't say how I've "got it wrong" over the motion at conference, or in what way my post is unhelpful to the Fremantle campaign. If it was, I'd fix it, obviously.

Eric is, himself, not making a big fuss about the decision of the NEC to reject a proposal from the International Committee to fund Labourstart. He's not a member of UNISON and it would be a bit odd for him to do so. But it's a matter of record that the International Committee decided (twice) to recommend some financial support for LabourStart, and the NEC decided not to do so. Those who argued against funding Labourstart objected to its "Zionist connections". That's Eric.

I understand that one NEC member who was contacted recently about the issue said they vaguely remembered the debate, and thought that the reason for refusing the funding might have been that Eric was "anti-semitic". Good to know they're paying attention on the NEC, isn't it?

As for the motion at UNISON conference, it called for (but shied away from actually committing UNISON to organise) a cultural, economic and academic boycott. If it was actually going to be enacted it would, as a minimum, require UNISON to cease all contact with institutions inside Israel, which we have demonstrably not done. I am aware of no protests about this. So at least some of those who supported the motion did so with no expectation that UNISON would carry it out. I don't mind too much that I was on the losing side in the debate - I expect that to happen from time to time in a democratic organisation. But I object to people (and especially the NEC) promoting a position for the political credibility they believe attaches to it, but without any intention of backing that up with action.

I hope next year UNISON can adopt a position of straightforward solidarity with the Palestinians which also recognises the importance of working with those inside Israel (and those outside Israel but who accept Israel's right to exist) who also want to see justice, and an independent, democratic, state, for the Palestinian people.