Thursday, December 11, 2008

Labour in government, and rights on the Rock

EVERY timed I walk into the headquarters of my trade union, the TGWU-Unite, I pass the bust of a former British Foreign Secretary. No, it is not the late Robin Cook, whom the union once sponsored, and who will be remembered for his talk of a "moral dimension" to foreign policy and for resigning Tony Liar Blair's cabinet rather than support the Iraq war.

It is former TGWU general secretary Ernest Bevin, who became Churchill's wartime Labour Minister, then Attlee's Foreign Minister, supporting NATO and Cold War, and expecting the US to back British Empire in return for bases against the Soviet Union.

Bevin still has his devotees. Besides the bust you pass in the TGWU's foyer, another was ordered by Robin Cook when he moved into the Foreign Office. A couple of years ago TGWU officials wanted a Workers Memorial Day march, heading for the statue of the unknown building worker at Tower Hill, to pay homage en route to Bevin's statue in Tooley Street, Southwark. (This may have been a matter of prestige, because the building worker's statue is regarded as a UCATT property, rather than anything to do with Bevin's contribution to workplace safety. Union officials are like that). There's even an Ernest Bevin Society, though I'm not sure what relationship its curious politics have to the man himself, let alone the union .

That aside, one episode in Bevin's career, the former union leader's treatment 60 years ago of a fellow-trade unionist, has been brought to light in recently-released government files in Britain and Gibraltar. The Shameful Deportation of a Trade Union Leader, the story of Albert Fava", is the title of a pamphlet on this subject by Jonathan Jeffries and Dr. Tom Sibley, and I'm glad to note that my union, the T&G Unite, is sponsoring it.

Writing in the Morning Star on November 27, Tom Sibley says: "IT WAS a shameful attack on trade union and human rights. It was carried out by a British Labour government whose foreign secretary was the legendary ex-trade union leader Ernest Bevin. The victim was Gibraltarian Albert Fava".

In the immediate post-war years, Gibraltar became an important centre of trade union and anti-colonial struggle, but it was also of course of key strategic importance to Britain and the United States.

Like many Gibraltarians, Albert Fava had been evacuated to Britain during the second world war, when the colony was full of forces personnel. Working in this country he became active in the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU), and joined the Communist Party.

In July 1948 he returned to Gibralter to take up the post of general secretary of the Gibraltar Confederation of Labour (GCL). Within three months, he had reorganised and revitalised the organisation.

The British authorities were watching closely.

A colonial minister wrote to the then TUC general secretary: "As a result of Fava's personality, energy and knowledge of trade unions, the membership has increased and members began to pay their subs more regularly ... great activity was set on foot and Fava attempted to introduce many trade union practices employed in the UK."

This might have seemed all in his favour. Gibraltar workers may have thought so. But the British government - a Labour government - feared that the growing confidence of Gibraltar labour, combined with aspirations to democratic rights and self-determination, would endanger the security of fortress Gibraltar.

Following consultation with British ministers, the governor decided to use his powers to eject Fava as "an undesirable." The authorities moved quickly, so as not to give the workers movement in Britain or Gibraltar time to build up a campaign against deportation. "On October 9 1948, within a week of the order being issued, Fava was sent packing with his wife and three children on the first available ship to Britain".

The British authorities were anxious to stress that Fava had been exiled, not because of his trade union role but because of his activities as a Communist. The governor wrote to British colonial secretary Creech Jones.

"There is adequate evidence that he is maintaining a political correspondence with communistic elements abroad and I am satisfied that, under cover of genuine trade union activity and in accordance with the usual communist infiltration into local labour organisations, is endeavouring to sow the seeds of discord and to make mischief in local industrial circles."

The governor never published his "evidence," even when challenged by the GCL leadership to do so, and he refused to allow any independent scrutiny of the sources for his allegation.

Secret service files reveal a letter from the Communist Party's London offices at King Street wishing Fava well in his new job and a letter to the Fire Brigades Union, then under Communist Party leadership, asking for technical trade union advice. This is the only evidence of correspondence with "communistic elements abroad."

"It is hard to see how Fava could have been accused of infiltrating the GCL after being appointed general secretary. Meanwhile, sowing discord and making mischief is what trade union leaders in the colonies were always accused of simply for doing their job by raising demands on behalf of members.

"But Jones, a minister with long experience in the labour movement and a record of supporting colonial workers' rights when in opposition, apparently accepted this nonsense, presumably because he wanted to keep Bevin sweet in a period of anti-communist hysteria.

It seems the British TUC leadership went along with Labour ministers in the attack on trade union rights in the colonies. There is probably more to come out on how the security services were involved, and on the way some unions have provided a conduit for them in the guise of international work.

Gibraltar politics has followed a difficult course, on the one hand striving for democratic rights and better treatment from Britain; on the other hand anxious not to be handed back to Spain, especially during the long years of the Franco dictatorship - which British and US authorities were too ready to appease and proclaim part of the "Free World". Now Gibraltar is still classified by the UN as a colony, and yet it has gained EU membership.

On December 2003, to mark the 55th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Self-Determination for Gibraltar Group announced it was launching the annual Gibraltar Awards, for "people who have contributed significantly to the emancipation or political development of the Gibraltarians or to the democratisation of Gibraltar".

The first awards went posthumously to "the Gibraltarian who returned from the UK to Gibraltar to take up the post of General Secretary of the Gibraltar Confederation of Labour in 1948 at the request of the GCL. Mr. Fava was exiled from Gibraltar for the rest of his life on October the 9 th 1948, being given 48 hours to leave Gibraltar. No charge was ever brought against him to justify the Expulsion Order served upon him by the Governor supported by the UK Colonial Office, the predecessor of our Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the F&CO". The Gibraltar Award to Albert Fava bore the date October the 9 th 2003, to commemorate the date of his expulsion.

During the 1960s, the Gibraltar Confederation of Labour amalgamated with the TGWU. To commemorate the 60th anniversary of Fava's deportation, the TGWU section of Unite, Gibraltar, has launched a campaign to demand that all the government papers concerning this shameful act be released so that the full story can be told. British ministers have been asked to make public all the relevant evidence.

The booklet The Shameful Deportation Of A Trade Union Leader: The Story Of Albert Fava is available for £3 (post free) from Tom Sibley, 156 St Stephens Road, Hounslow, TW3 2BW or from T&GWU Unite, Town Range, Gibraltar. Make cheques payable to Unite TGWU section, Gibraltar.

Labels: , , ,


At 8:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"There's even an Ernest Bevin Society, though I'm not sure what relationship its curious politics have to the man himself, let alone the union."

The Ernest Bevin Society is an offshoot of Brendan Clifford's
infamous British and Irish Organisation,a now-defunct sect described by the New Statesman as "the most pro-Stalinist group on the British Left". The group is
discussed in the "Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations" by Barberis, McHugh and Tyldesley.

The EBS seems to support George Galloway nowadays. There's also
a B&ICO rump in Ireland called the
Aubane Historical Society that
supports Sinn Fein, and leads
nasty hate campaigns against "un-Irish" writers like
Elizabeth Bowen and Oscar Wilde.

At 12:49 AM, Blogger Seán McGouran said...

Charlie - the above is bollix, - I'm in the EBS (& Respect). Oscar Wilde? not mentioned for decades... Bowen (she rejoiced in being a Brit among the uncouth Mikes), and hated the plebs. Why is / are the above anonymous?
Seán McGouran (Lancaster 1973-1974), various HMPs 1974...

At 8:07 AM, Blogger Charlie Pottins said...

Was bit puzzled at first how this related to what I'd written on Gibraltar, till I brought iy up and realised Sean was commenting on someone else's comment, which is good. I know very little about the issues raised so maybe others will come into the discussion.
I also realised belatedly that I know, or knew, Sean McGouran, so greetings Sean!I left Lancaster in 1974 and so only heard second-hand what had happened to you.It still sounds like a fantasy or bad dream,yet all too real and frightening. I was certain you must gave been set up. If you are ever in London maybe we can meet up for a drink and you can tell me about it. I'm also interested of course in your political development and how you have come to your present views. All the Best.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Seán McGouran said...

I wasn't - in all honesty - 'set up' I was 'touted' on by a drug-dealer (he thought a pack of detonators were drugs. When he found it wasn't he rushed off to the police. They didn't ask him why he broke and entered the house I was sharing with a number of other people). He got his collar felt after I was released. I should have had the savvy to get on the boat to Belfast (NOT from Heysham). But that might have created a situation where the people sharing the house would have got a bad time. And the (rather large, the Heysham nuclear power station was being built, the pipeline for the 'North Sea oil' (you'll recall Mrs T wasted that resource paying for privatisation) was between Kendal and Lancaster)local Irish community. The Lancaster cops were so glad to have got their 'own' Irish Bomber they left the rest alone. Some people had sweaty encounters with the filth, but that was about it.

At 11:57 AM, Blogger Seán McGouran said...

Incidentally, the 'Stalinist smear' was thrown at Bico for decades - though the actual internal organisation was anarchistic (certainly tends to syndicalism - Connolly was essentially a syndicalist). Bico took Stalin as a historical figure who had to be examined. And decided a lot of the nonsense written about him was - nonsense. As for being nasty to scribblers, well Oscar was a British writer (he was educated in Enniskillen in the only Public School in Ireland) probably the reason why he was a republican. He wasn't particularly an Irish Republican, despite his Mammy writing for Young Ireland's The Nation. As noted above Bowen hated Irish people because we were ALL uncouth, she loathed Belfast holiday-makers in wartime Dublin. (She was there on a spying mission, and very good she was too - reporting back to Churchill that an invasion would be opposed by everybody in 'Éire' (she couldn't bring herself to use the acute / fada, spelling it 'Eire'). Does anybody really care what the New Statesperson thinks about anything? Bico may well be 'discussed' in an encyclopedia - nobody bothered to talk to Bico. There is a (ridiculously expensive) book on Bico being flogged by some US company. (all out of wikipedia - it must be a very short tome.)


Post a Comment

<< Home