Friday, 20 May 2011

TUC's Brendan Barber writes back to me about Chávez

TUC responds to Rob Marchant on Chávez

Oh yes, with all the posts of the last week I forgot to mention: I finally got a response from the TUC's Brendan Barber, explaining why it is backing the rather unspeakable Chávez regime in Venezuela (you may remember I wrote an open letter to him on 23 April, asking why the TUC was sponsoring a conference of the Venezuela Solidarity Committee, Venezuela's propaganda mouthpiece in London, and suggesting why it might not be a good idea).

I suppose that, naïvely, I was vaguely hopeful that the most important trade union body in the country was not really propagandising for the repugnant Chávez. I was, sadly, disappointed.

For those who cannot read union-speak without assistance, I understand, and therefore provide below a rough translation of Brendan's three paragraphs:

Dear Rob
1. It doesn’t matter to us how bad the situation regarding human rights and democracy gets, as long as things are better than they were before in terms of healthcare and education (mind you, they could hardly be worse than under the old regime). We think that following these programmes is of considerable educational value to our members [I am not making this up, honestly. Read the letter]. So it's a good use of their money, really.
2. We should like to use an NGO, the International Labour Organisation [ILO, which forms part of the UN] as a fig-leaf for our indefensible stance (i.e. if they don't denounce Chávez, neither need we). So, we hereby absolve ourselves of all responsibility until the ILO, a body not really geared up for political sanctions, visits and makes a ruling, which it probably won’t [the ILO also deals happily with Cambodia, where child labour is common].
3. Venezuela might be bad, but you should see Colombia and Guatemala. We have relations with them as well. How can you make such a fuss about this? These are the good guys. Er, relatively speaking, that is.
Yours etc.
Brendan Barber
I also received an email from an anonymous former union official, now working internationally  for democracy, who understands the issues, to whom I showed the letter and whom I shall quote here:
That is so lame - predictably so - and a real betrayal of best of TUC tradition (and Brendan's own professed Bevinite* convictions). What's shameful is that it reads like a pro forma letter in which TUC could substitute China or Cuba for Venezuela - and it probably is.
There is little for me to add. I am not sure there is much to gain in responding, but be assured I will not be letting the issue rest.

Sorry to bang on about this: perhaps I am the only person who thinks it an extraordinary error of judgement on the part of major figures from the Labour movement, such as the heads of the TUC and major trade unions, and Labour's candidate for London Mayor, to support, and propagandise for, this awful regime.

*For those of a younger generation, "Bevinite" refers to the great Ernest Bevin (1881-1951), acclaimed Labour Foreign Secretary and arguably the greatest-ever British trade unionist. He hated the fascist apologists of the 1930s and would, there is no doubt, have had little time for the likes of Chávez.

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