25/10/2009 - Tartan McCarthyism from Labour

TWO SENIOR Solidarity Trade Union officials have hit out at recent comments made by Rhona Brankin, Scottish Labour’s education spokeswoman. 

General Secretary Patrick Harrington and Executive member David Durant were highly critical of Ms Brankin - a leading supporter of political discrimination in Scotland. 

Both Mr. Harrington and Mr. Durant accused her of supporting a form of ‘Tartan McCarthyism’ - the politically motivated practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence.

Their comments came after Ms Brankin echoed Labour’s Schools Secretary Ed Balls who wants to deny some teacher’s the right to employment, purely because of their political beliefs. 

Effectively Brankin called for teachers – who are also members of the British National Party – to be kicked out of their jobs.  This action would be totally illegal as it would be in breach of their human rights.

Mr. Harrington and Mr. Durant said that Solidarity Trade Union was completely opposed to all forms of discrimination:

Discrimination is illegal under employment legislation.  What Ms Brankin is proposing is political discrimination.  Discrimination is discrimination – no matter what way she likes to dress it up”.   

Mr. Harrington provided an in-depth analysis of Mr. Balls and Ms Brankin’s attempt to deny workers their human rights.

“Article 11 of the European Court of Human Rights protects freedom of association.  Under the ECHR freedom of association can be restricted only:

(i) in the interests of national security or public safety,

(ii) for the prevention of disorder or crime,

(iii) for the protection of health or morals, or

(iv) for the protection of the rights or freedoms of others”.

Any restrictions must be "prescribed by law," and they must be "necessary in a democracy" to achieve one of the four listed objectives.

In two cases (the Sidiropoulos [1] and Communist Party [2] cases), the Court emphasised that exceptions must be "construed strictly," that only "clear and compelling" reasons can justify restrictions, that any restrictions must be "proportional to the legitimate end pursued," and that there must be "relevant and sufficient" evidence and "decisions based on an acceptable assessment of the relevant facts" before a restriction can be justified.

Labour calls to ban BNP members from particular jobs represent a full assault on freedom of association.

Democracy at the least entails that all citizens have claims to participate in the legislative programming of society.  Given the size and complexity of democratic societies, rights have to be realised to a significant degree through participation in the debates of the political public sphere and through their membership in and support for political organisations such as Parties.

If they lack such opportunities and choices or face intimidation in exercising them, political decisions will lack democratic legitimacy.  Where the law or administrative orders prohibit such options, 'it cuts off the possibility of participating in the open ended future required by democracy.

The burden of justification for future-constraining regulations on freedom of association and expression is on those who propose and favour them.  It seems to me that they will find if difficult to dress-up their clear political spite in these terms.  As Ed Balls made his support for the ban clear and linked it to the BNP European election wins prior to his announcement of an investigation, spite would not be hard to prove.

Our Union has submitted a number of Freedom of Information Act requests to try to find out how many complaints have been made concerning the political affiliation of teachers at schools in England and Wales.  We want to find out if the proposal is addressing any real problem or need.  Our current opinion is that the current safeguards are sufficient to ensure that pupils are treated with respect.  We have yet to see any evidence of a BNP member discriminating against a pupil on account of their own political affiliation."

Dr Evan Harris, MP (Lib Dem) put the strong arguments against introducing political vetting well in a letter to the Times published on October 5:

"It is obviously illiberal to declare that legal membership of a legal political party will be a bar to earning a living as a teacher, especially as what should be actually banned is behaviour — not thoughts, or unexpressed views.

The logic of a BNP ban is that all its members are racist, that all BNP members will seek to spread racism or to discriminate in the classroom, and that racist people are found only in the BNP.

The evidence base for some or all of these assertions is weak, to say the least. Most racists, and therefore most racist teachers, are not members of the BNP.  It would be far from a complete solution, given that there were only 15 teachers listed when the BNP membership list was published.  How does that compare to the number of teachers who are racist but have never joined a party?  Or the teachers who are members of religions that are homophobic or misogynistic? Ironically, the Government actually allows faith schools to discriminate in favour of such individuals when appointing teachers.

The proposals would add nothing to existing prohibitions on workplace discrimination and harassment in schools, or to professional codes of practice. Worst of all, it is fundamentally counterproductive, creating martyrs out of the BNP."

Solidarity Executive member David Durant also pointed out the hypocrisy of Nu Labour.

“Labour claim to be ‘socialists’.  They’re supposed to be the party of the ordinary working man and woman.  Isn’t it strange then, that these so-called ‘socialist’s’ are only interested in kicking people out of work?”

He also warned that members of the British National Party may not be the only people discriminated against in Scotland.

“I’m wondering who’ll be next?  Are they going to target people because of their religious beliefs?  Will they pick on Protestants because of their membership of the Loyal Orders?  Will they pick on Catholics because of their membership of the Ancient Order of Hibernian’s?”

Mr. Durant  noted that the Scottish Goverment had rejected the Labour calls. He concluded by saying, however, that any member of Solidarity who thought that they were being discriminated at work – for any reason – should contact the union as soon as possible and that anyone worried about facing discrimination should join our Union which will stand-up for their rights.