Sunday, March 19, 2006
ONE FASCIST UNION
The following report is from the British anti-fascist magazine Searchlight
BNP union unmasked
Searchlight can exclusively reveal that the British National Party has launched a trade union. “Solidarity – The Union for British Workers” was registered with the trade unions Certification Office shortly before Christmas. Solidarity claims that it will be a normal trade union defending the interests of any British worker, but in reality it will be simply a front for the BNP. Given the BNP’s views on trade unionism and industrial relations, Solidarity will be little more than a scab union.
The creation of a trade union signals a dramatic departure for the fascist party. After years of encouraging members to infiltrate existing unions in the hope of seeking confrontation with officials, the BNP is now setting up an alternative structure.
According to documents lodged with the Certification Office, which regulates matters concerning trade unions, Solidarity aims to “improve the relations between employers and employees throughout all industries served by the union”.
It will also strive: “to protect, assist and promote the working and living conditions of the citizens of the British Isles”.
It all seems above board at first appearance but a closer look at the registration form makes its true agenda more apparent. Solidarity will also, its documents claim, “resist and oppose all forms of institutional union corruption” and “promote freedom within and without the Trades Union movement, protecting and promoting freedom of belief, thought and speech, irrespective of political and religious affiliation or creed”.
It also intends to set up a Political Fund and “print, publish, issue and circulate” literature that “may seem conducive to the … objects of Solidarity”. It will also seek to “aid and join with any organisation, federation, political representative or body … having for their object, or one of their objects, the promotion of the interests of workers or the furtherance of the political objectives enshrined within the Political Fund”.
There is no reference in the documents to BNP involvement but let there be no mistake about it, this is a BNP front.
The “President” of the union is Clive Potter, a long-time BNP activist from Leicester, who was expelled from Unison for improper conduct. Other BNP activists involved in the project include Jay Lee, who was recently booted out of Aslef, and John Walker, the BNP’s national treasurer, who has had his own troubles with the T&G.
The establishment of Solidarity appears to be a natural continuation of the party’s turn to working-class politics which began in 2000 and quickened over the past two years. Although the BNP has achieved its best election results in areas beset by racial friction, mostly in East Lancashire and West Yorkshire, it has won growing support in more traditional Labour areas where race is much less of an issue. The decline of traditional industries in South Yorkshire, the Potteries and the North East over the past 20 years has been matched by rising disillusionment with the Labour Party and an increase in support for the BNP.
The majority of space in the BNP’s newspaper, The Voice of Freedom, is now devoted to issues around migrant workers, the decline of British manufacturing, outsourcing and the impact of cheap imports. In the October edition, nine of the 16 pages were wholly or largely given to “industrial” issues. Most articles rile against the collapse of British economy as a result of a Government whose internationalist agenda is selling out British workers and a trade union movement which is more concerned with political correctness, stifling free speech and appeasing minority groups. The BNP, it claims, is now the only party standing up for the British worker.
An early intervention into working-class communities was the campaign for a Miners’ Memorial Day, launched by the BNP a year ago. Though initially a paper campaign, purely in response to the Holocaust Memorial Day, John Kitching, a Durham resident, took it further. The BNP has circulated a petition, badges and a leaflet in the former mining communities in the North East and Yorkshire. The campaign received backing from a number of trades councils and even the North East NUM before people realised it was a BNP front.
The BNP loves to hate the trade union movement. A few years ago it encouraged members to join unions in an attempt to seek confrontation with union officials (and publicity) in the hope of securing financial payouts when members were illegally expelled. But few BNP members carried out this work and the strategy became redundant when the law was changed to allow unions to expel fascists.
The BNP has always insisted that it is pro-union and objects only to those run by “the Marxist left”, but its concept of trade unionism is markedly different from the usual meaning. The BNP does not really believe in independent unions, indeed it has said that in a BNP Britain there would be no need for them because employers and employees would be involved in the same organisations.
It should also be remembered where the BNP’s real allegiance lies. During the 1984-85 miners’ strike the BNP called for the Army to be used against the NUM. One Yorkshire BNP candidate even funded scab miners.
A time to complain
Solidarity operates in name but so far not in reality. For it to be a proper trade union it will have to obtain a certificate of independence. This is a long and complicated process and one that will cost the BNP several thousand pounds.
The certificate of independence attests that the union is completely separate from employers and employers’ organisations and that it will operate solely in the interests of its members. Without a certificate it is highly unlikely that Solidarity could represent any of its members in an industrial tribunal, court proceedings or even in negotiations with employers.
In deciding whether a union is independent, the Certification Office will look at whether the union was formed with employer encouragement, the membership base of the union, its organisation and structure, and in particular how the rule book works in practice. The office would also look at its negotiating record and funding sources.
The certification process would involve a lengthy investigation and include a visit to the union’s headquarters, and scrutiny of the executive committee’s minutes and details of recognition by, and negotiations with, employers. Any member of the public has a right to express an objection.
As a trade union must have a record of activity before it can show that it is independent, Solidarity is unlikely to be able to proceed to this stage quickly, if at all.
The certification office can also deregister any union if it believes that the organisation is no longer functioning as a union.
Although obtaining a certificate of independence is clearly some way off, the BNP already has plans to use Solidarity as a political tool. Potter is currently looking into ways to establish a political fund, as a means to divert money to the BNP, and a public launch of the union would seek to cause maximum embarrassment to the TUC and its affiliates.
Searchlight’s exposure of Solidarity and its clear role as a front for the BNP will hopefully encourage a more thorough investigation by the Certification Office and complaints from trade unions. More importantly, however, the birth of Solidarity should remind the union movement of the need to oppose the BNP and highlight the incompatibility of racist politics with the ethos of trade unionism, which is based on solidarity and unity.
Since this article was written, Patrick Harrington has replaced Clive Potter as president of Solidarity. Harrington, a railway worker who was expelled from the RMT union, was one of the National Front "political soldiers" in the late 1980s alongside Nick Griffin, now leader of the BNP.
Since 1990 Harrington has run a group called Third Way, a group of about 20 members whose activities are largely confined to the internet. Third Way claims to be "beyond" left and right and has recently been seeking to initiate alliances with various other single-issue protest groups. Harrington's involvement in Solidarity is no doubt intended to provide a means for Harrington to increase his profile and an excuse for the BNP to claim that Solidarity is not a BNP front.
© Searchlight Magazine 2006