Saturday, July 26, 2014

Eric Lee, Gaza, LabourStart, Me and 900 Comrades- A Screed

LabourStart is composed of almost 900 volunteer trade unionists around the world.  101 in Canada alone (where I reside).  We operate largely autonomously from each other.  While Eric is prominent among them/us as webmaster and founder, he does not determine LabourStart editorial policy. 

He can’t because other than ‘collect news from and about unions and workers organizations’ we have none.  Nor do we need one or have any structural mechanisms for determining one.  Or, and perhaps I speak only for myself, any interest in developing one.  Frankly I am not sure I would remain involved if we attempted to develop one.

We are not subject to any organizational discipline beyond the most basic (guided by, I am rather pleased to say, a modified version of the CUPE Equality Statement). We are not a political formation.  Anyone joining our merry band with that expectation quickly moves on.

LS has other volunteers, including myself, who have taken much different positions than Eric on the current events in Palestine and on the BDS movement in their personal capacities and whose unions have taken a wide variety of positions as well.  And many, frankly, who are of no opinion or who have not heard of the boycott call.  Believe it or not there are places and unions where the issue is not pressing or is unknown to most union activists.

In fact LS has taken no position and won't - because it doesn't need to in order to do what it does.  With or without a policy regarding the Gaza invasion or BDS it is our task to cover the trade union news relating to Palestine as we would in any other nation. You may have noted that to date LabourStart has covered both sides in the debate on a boycott of Israel and a wide variety of positions taken by unions around the world regarding the Israeli invasion of Gaza.

In the past we have covered similar controversies from all perspectives when unions took positions.  When unions did not take a position then there was and will be no coverage on LabourStart.  We reflect the activities of and debates within and between legitimate trade unions.  We will continue to do so.  Taking a position in any such debate would be both structurally difficult if not impossible for LabourStart, but would also (in my opinion) be contrary to our goals.

It would also likely be the end of LabourStart.  Any very broad, inclusive global coalition like ours which tried to impose discipline on its participants on more than a very few very fundamental issues would be splitting on a regular and frequent basis. 

LabourStart is a coalition of trade unionists who share only our interest in using the internet to better connect and inform trade unionists around the world.  Beyond that we may or may not share analyses of any number of situations but this is irrelevant to what we do at LabourStart.  We work hard at ensuring this. 

Another, though not as extreme, example of this is the question of faith-based trade unions.  In my country, Canada, such things are anathema and the one ‘union’ that operates on this basis is shunned by the rest of the labour movement here.  I personally will not post stories from this 'union' to LabourStart and I encourage others to stop when I see such stories on our site.  But I am not in a position to impose any organizational discipline on them and stop it from happening.  I may wish I could at times, but I can't and shouldn't.

In other parts of the world confessional trade unionism is the norm.  Where LabourStart volunteers from those countries have posted stories about the Christian Labour Association of Canada to LabourStart I have asked that they be removed and they have been.  However I am not inclined to attempt to impose a ‘no-confessional-unions’ policy on LabourStart.  Nor is there any mechanism for me to do so.  If there was and I was successful in pressing the case for a ban on religion-specific union news then we would see virtually no news from countries like The Netherlands and Belgium.

All that said, as volunteers all of us connected to LabourStart have other lives.  We work, we write, we do our union and political work.  In those capacities we have opinions and we express them.  Eric is perhaps more identified with LabourStart than any of us, but that does not make his opinions LabourStart policy on this issue.

If Eric’s views are somehow to be made synonymous with something perceived to be ‘LabourStart’s policy’ or ‘LabourStart’s position’ on the Israel-Palestine conflict then why not mine?  Or why not those of our Indian or Ukrainian or South African or Cambodian or Dutch volunteers?

We as LabourStart have none now and have no intention of taking a position in future.  What we do plan to do is cover as much of the trade union debate on the subject as we can find.

As individuals we of course do and we will, I would expect, organize and act in support of our personal positions and those of the unions and political formations we are affiliated with.

As LabourStart, other than collecting news, we provide a campaigning service available to the global labour movement – as we are currently doing by running a campaign the ITUC wanted regarding its call for a ceasefire in Gaza.  If the critics of that call and the analysis behind it want to take it on I would suggest they do that through their unions and national central labour bodies.  As a very loose coalition of volunteers, most of whom are rank-and-file trade unionists with day jobs, LabourStart is incapable of and has no desire to develop the capacity to analyze struggles around the world, determine if they are legitimate, decide if they conform to a shared political analysis and position  and build a strategy that does more good than harm.  For that we (must) rely on the decisions of the institutions of the labour movement – unions, national centres, the GUFs and the ITUC.  Otherwise we risk doing far more harm than good, despite our intentions.

My only (comradely I hope) suggestion for those who regularly try to make hay by attacking LabourStart as a way to get at Eric or as a backhanded way of taking on his analysis is that you take him on directly.  It’s not like he is hard to contact.

But threatening, as a few people do each time this 'debate' erupts, to somehow undermine Eric's position by denying support to workers out there somewhere engaged in a struggle with an employer or a government, sometime a life or death struggle, strikes me as...well, I said I would try to be comradely in this so I will withhold my opinion on that point.

But I will say this: I challenge those who attack LabourStart because of Eric’s association with it to present evidence of a bias in the stories we collect.  Further, I’d invite them to apply for a LabourStart account and post the stories they think we’re missing.

And in the meantime, recognize that LabourStart and Eric are two different entities and that attacking LabourStart only serves to undermine not just the most successful effort at global digital solidarity for workers there is, but the ONLY such effort around.

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