UNISON bans a stall, but can’t silence the message

As we reported earlier, Britain’s public sector union UNISON banned Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) from having a stall at its annual conference this week.  Among a number of excuses the union offered (in spite of the fact that TUFI has had a stall for the last four years) was that it could not guarantee the safety of campaigners who were seen as being “pro-Israeli”.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, this is like telling union members from Black and other ethnic minorities that in light of the rise of right-wing racist parties like the BNP, it could not guarantee their safety either.

In spite of this, yesterday TUFI went ahead and held a fringe meeting in the hotel next to Brighton’s conference centre.  As TUFI’s Doreen Gerson said, if UNISON wouldn’t let them into us into the conference hall, we’ll take the building next door.

The organisation was expecting 30 participants, but double that number showed up and it was standing room only.  Fears of violence proved unfounded as the meeting was conducted in an entirely civil manner.  Indeed, except for one well-known anti-Zionist, the room was sympathetic to TUFI’s message which was pro-peace and anti-boycott.

The speakers included two from Northern Ireland, Terry McCorran (a UNISON branch official and founder of Northern Ireland Friends of Israel) and Chris Hudson, a former official in the Communication Workers Union in the Irish Republic and now a Unitarian minister in Belfast.  Steve Scott spoke on behalf of TUFI and Eric Lee spoke for TULIP.

Hudson made a strong case that Israel was not an apartheid society, and talked about his experiences building bridges between communities in Northern Ireland.  McCorran quoted from the UNISON Rule Book pointing out that members of the union who backed a racist organisation were liable to expulsion - and noted that if the union votes on Thursday, as expected, for a boycott of Israel and in support of Hamas, it may be violating its own rules.

Lee spoke about what TULIP is, why it was founded and by whom, its relationship to TUFI and the need to globalize the struggle that TUFI has been engaged in for the last few years in the UK. He encouraged participants to sign up to the new organisation and many did on the spot.

There was a lively discussion from the floor, with a number of participants promising to speak up when the motion proposing a boycott of Israel comes to a vote on Thursday.