Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Andy Newman, Witchfinder General: Does He Speak for the GMB?

with 23 comments


Andy Newman Prepares for Work.

Socialist Unity may have bitten often more than it chew.

It has indulged in what many people consider to be red-baiting of AWL member Janine Booth. She  is now London Transport rep on the RMT’s national executive. A great fault in Andy Newman’s eyes.

Andy Newman remarks that given that the,

AWL is deeply hostile to the politics of Bob Crow, then it is hard to see how productive relations between lay members and full-time officials can be maintained, when Janine is committed to writing leaflets that undermine officials who the AWL describe as bureaucrats, and by implication break confidences (telling you what the “bureaucrat” won’t).

In other words Newman insinuates that Janine Booth will break RMT rules regarding the confidential nature of union business. This is an extremely serious charge.

He goes into make this claim,

The AWL says that their aim in RMT is to “prioritise recruiting new AWL members”. Significantly this is regarded as more important than strengthening the union. To this aim in May 2011 they set up a Tube workers’ AWL branch that caucuses around introducing their controversial politics into RMT branches.

“We have prioritised political discussion in the branch, increasing our confidence to sell the paper to more and more people. Together, we discussed, wrote and moved an amendment on Libya to last month’s regional meeting. Although we lost the vote, we impressed some people by articulating clear, distinctive and thought-out views” [AWL expands on London Underground, http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2011/05/04/awl-expands-london-underground  ]

Most unions in Britain have smaller and larger alliances of left, centre, or right-wing activists who stand for election. The AWL takes part in some, and, apparently in this case, organises its members who work on the Tube around their own body.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

It is no secret.

Newman was able to find the AWL statements even from darkest Wiltshire.

But wait, London Underground workers have faced a long (very long – going back to the 1980s) campaign against them. Led by the Evening Standard.

Some of the flavour of this attack – which can be called a witch-hunt – is given last year in the same paper (Here).

The three men orchestrating the RMT union’s two weeks of strike action from behind the scenes can be named today.

Steve Hedley, Brian Munro and Pat Sikorski each have a long history of battling Tube managers and leading militant campaigns.

While RMT general secretary Bob Crow is the union’s public face, he is said to be backed by an even further-Left clique of activists.

Socialist Unity seems to think that they should make their own attack on a “far-left clique of activists”.

For a GMB Branch Secretary (Wiltshire and Swindon) – Andy Newman –  to red-bait Janine Booth in her capacity as a RMT official is a very serious breach of normal  union protocol.

Put simply, officials, including lay-officials, do not publicly attack other unions, including activists in other unions.

How does this work for the GMB?

The GMB is run democratically from the centre.

To illustrate how this happens one of its principles (from the GMB Rule Book)  is that “Members or branches must not issue any addresses or circulars without getting approval from the regional council, regional committee or Central Executive Council. Also, members must not make our business known to  unauthorised organisations, unofficial journals or the print media without getting approval. “

Is this latest attack on members of other unions known to the GMB?

We doubt it, as we have great respect for the union.

We wonder how Newman squares his Web activities with his duties to his own union.


Written by Andrew Coates

December 19, 2012 at 12:18 pm

23 Responses

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  1. Good article. Newman is a fucking disgrace!


    December 19, 2012 at 12:53 pm

  2. Going back to the AWL, the portrait Andy’s article paints of them is not so very different from my experience of Socialist Organiser and Socialist Students in the National Organisation of Labour Students (SSiN). Politically they were, well obnoxious, they seem to love finding a strongly held belief and then finding a leftish sounding argument too oppose it- the two key in my time were support for the PLO single state solution, and the ‘Liberation campaigns’, women, Lesbian and Gay (As was), and Black Sections. It was their own brand unique selling point- maybe they had a point from a marketing point of view, it did make them stand out from the crowd.

    What they were was very well organised, like Militant in the North West, they found a crumbling Labour Party structure, in their case NOLS and the Area Convenors full-time positions of the NUS (A god forsaken job if ever there was one), and they used the the Convenors roles to parachute FE sector delegates into NUS conference. Their tactic of calling the first demonstration in Fresher’s week under one of their anti-cuts front organisations was a brilliant way of getting to first year students. They completely out maneuvered the SWP and the Millies at the time, who while good at an individual student union level seemed to be totally confused at a national level. Indeed the only other minute group that did as well in elections for the NUS was us in Communist Students, at one time we had 6 Communists on the NEC which was pretty amazing as we had under 20 active members.

    It always felt like dealing with an onion when dealing with them, there was their anti-cuts front, then SSiN, which did attract a lot of genuine left labour types, then Socialist Organiser, then their core membership which it is true did contain a few of revolutionary monk types, a la Lutte Ouvriere over here in France. We use to ask them if they had a membership card for the International Communist League/Union, a friend once went through his mates wallet to see if he could find one, which was then superglued to his forehead, the SO comrade in question being in a state of advanced alcoholic stupor snoring on the floor at the time. Can’t remember the exact name of the IC whether it was league union or party as I wasn’t too far behind myself.

    On a personal level however I find myself well at odds with Andy’s portrayal, maybe they are very different now and only the revolutionary monks are left. Back in the mid 80s they were an open boisterous crew, hard drinking, friendly, and always good for a drunken row. The MANUS crew were hilarious in their complete and utter lack of understanding about anything to do with Trade Unions, maybe that explains why they were done for confusing NUS funds with their own personal finances. May be the likes of Paul Brenner and Simon Pottinger are well gone, those two could double a pubs weekly revenue in an evening, a trait that their great leader had at the time. Yeah there was a fair amount of revolutionary incest going on, but SO were not exactly the only ones up for that, but the women comrades I knew in the leadership of SO were not ones to stand for any bullshit, and were certainly not backwards in coming forward if anyone was out of line.

    Pete Shield

    December 19, 2012 at 5:16 pm

  3. Pete, you obviously have had mroe direct contact with them than I have, though I’ve had some over the years.

    I worked for a short while with some who were in Workers Fight in the area around Edmonton and North Hackney.

    I did know Bob Fine (Ben Fine’s brother) when he was in them at the turn of the 1970s/1980s while he was a Warwick lecturer and active anti-racist in the West Midlands.

    They were not wreckers….Indeed his partner Jenny was a really fine person.

    Still I come from (and always have been from) a kind of European leftism, partly Trotskyist but rather broader than that (where left Eurocommunism meets Autonomism, meets self-management…), that is very distinct from their ideology.

    So you can imagine I don’t have much sympathy for their style of American Trotskyism, regardless of differing views on specific issues.

    But this is not the central point.

    There’s a growing suspicion – informed by people who know Newman’s individual targets well – that this is an attempt to interfere in coming RMT elections.

    Andrew Coates

    December 19, 2012 at 6:14 pm

  4. Andrew, I defer to your greater knowledge, as I have no idea about what is going on in the RMT. I do find SU a more and more hostile place, John has a really aggressive tunnel visions style, Andy clearly suffers from a bipolar personality, he shifts from open and engaging to aggressive and closed minded in the space of minutes. There is a weird machismo at work, maybe there is a geek’s virus going around, a sort of keyboard testosterone.

    Pete Shield

    December 19, 2012 at 6:29 pm

  5. Pete: “…they seem to love finding a strongly held belief and then finding a leftish sounding argument to oppose it…”

    That is a very important niche on the left. In the 1970s it was ably occupied by BICO, then in the 1980s the RCP took on the role. Now it’s the turn of the AWL. When and if they dissolve, implode or go mainstream, some other grouplet will take up the mantle. Nature abhors a vacuum…


    December 19, 2012 at 7:42 pm

  6. The title ‘Socialist Unity’ is rather a misnomer. It’s neither par;ticularly socialist or in favour of unity. (in my humble opinion.).

    Sue R

    December 19, 2012 at 8:21 pm

  7. I can’t help thinking Andy Newman’s motivations lie in the AWL’s broader politics. Put simply, he hates them because of their positions on the Middle East, their critiques of his former party (Respect) and their critiques of some of the trends within British Islam.

    Everyone else – hopefully – will judge Janine Booth on whether she represents the interests of RMT members.

    Paul Stott

    December 19, 2012 at 10:48 pm

  8. basically, Newman has found his own definition of ‘unity’, see also http://www.socialistunity.com/the-swps-descent-into-liberalism/


    December 20, 2012 at 10:16 am

  9. It should now be clear that Newman is not engaging in simple leftist Trainspotting and the ever-enjoyable game of being nasty about left groups (except one’s own).

    Attacking the AWL and its leader, who is described in As Soon AS This Pub Closes, as having more enemies than any other group in the left, is too easy – if completely wrong on this basis.

    There is more at work.

    On his motivation Newman claims this,

    “Having said that, the original commission of this article was because of a practical situation in a labour movement body, where people with mainstream social-democratic politics wanted to understand the strange beastie suddenly in their back garden; and outwith the fevered circles of the far-left, the AWL is not as well known as the other left groups; and therefore the peculiarities of the AWL which cause most of us to give it a wide bearth are not understood.”

    He has also said of what he published on-line,

    “But there is other material, which I have redacted as it is based upon testimony from a number of people about real life expereince, and therefore contains confidential information, and also information from other peoples’ investigations.”

    This drew the comment,

    “Andy writes that the original version of this article, as presented to those who supposedly commissioned it from him, contained “testimony” and “confidential information, and also information from other peoples’ investigations”. (Sounds like it’s the CID of the left, here, officer.)

    If it was “confidential”, why write it down/present it to others/use it at all? Oh, it was originally in the first version of this article (etc.) as distributed/presented – so it isn’t actually “confidential” at all. Publishing it online could be a problem though – though it is all true and certainly not libellous, as libel is only a problem – if you have faith in the legal system as it currently stands – if someone’s lying about you.

    I do wonder why it won’t be put on line. All mouth(keyboard) and no trousers?”

    Two points.

    Firstly Newman is witch-hunting: he is telling people how to spot the ‘strange beasite’, and what an awful thing it is. One assumes that like any “malignant” growth it must be cut out.

    Secondly, as somebody who is enagaged in ‘mainstream’ labour movement politics, I would say that Newman, as a GMB activist (and one assumes with time given to him in this position, for how else could he keep on-line nearly all-day?) was addressing an audience that included that part of the labour movement.

    More widely, however, Socialist Unity, with its links to Respect is certainly not known for its participation in the mainstream of the Labour Party as such, nor its left – such as the Labour Representation Committee, whose major Conference this year went unnoticed on the site.

    Unless of course one thinks that publishing this article by John Green on the GDR is ‘mainstream’.

    “Of course the GDR had a whole number of serious shortcomings and in terms of individual rights and democracy left a lot to be desired.

    But to dwell only on these aspects as the mainstream media in the West has done, is to ignore its genuine achievements.

    Since its demise, many have come to recognise and regret that the genuine “social achievements” they enjoyed have now been dismantled.”


    Nor is the present post on the AWL exactly of a ‘mainstream’ flavour, at least in terms of labour movement norms.

    Newman has launched attacks on the activities of a left pressure group in unions, notably the RMT, including named individuals.

    This is known as interfering in other unions’ business.

    For these and many other reasons, it is unlikely that this current exercise will smooth Newman’s entry into mainstream Labour politics.

    Andrew Coates

    December 20, 2012 at 1:29 pm

  10. Re Francis’ post above. Yes, there is a real similarity between the now defunct RCP and the AWL (I was an RCP supporter for some years). It is this ‘finding what the left says and trying to market oneself by being different’ kind of approach. In a crowded market-place, one has to have a distinctive product.

    I often wondered when I was in the RCP whether we really thought up our positions by looking carefully at the situation at hand, or by looking at what the left said about it and then concoct something different. I reckon the AWL does the same. Nobody’s pushing a Shachtmanite position, so let’s do it… there might be some returns… If the AWL hits on a position that someone else is already marketing, then it peddles an exaggerated version. The two-state solution for Israel/Palestine is quite common, so let’s accuse the mono-statists of anti-Semitism… That sort of thing.

    I pointed out in a letter to the Weekly Worker this similarity between my old lot and Matgamna’s group, and that’s what really annoyed him.

    Dr Paul

    December 20, 2012 at 7:10 pm

  11. But how is a Stalinist denouncing Trotskyists who dare to operate in unions news?

    Newman is just ploughing a very long and very deep furrow that is almost as old as unions themselves – when Marx and Engels complain about the reactionary labour aristocracy who ran the English craft unions in the 1860s they were describing embryonic union bureaucrats who sought to strangle all truly revolutionary trends in the working class.

    But unless Newman is an actual paid official of the GMB (I may be wrong but I don’t think he is?) I can’t see that his commenting on affairs in another union is outrageous in itself.

    For example given the interminable wrangling in the UCU over the academic boycott of Israel are we to say that nobody who is not a fully paid up member has any right to publish an opinion?

    And were only NUM members entitled to express opinions on the conduct of the miners strike?

    What Newman writes is poisonous drivel but I can’t see how he is not entitled to an opinion – just as we all are entitled to slag him off if he stands for election in the GMB.

  12. It’s all very shabby in any case.

    The GMB is democratically run with all lay and paid officials having a strong responsbility to the union.

    From what I know you don’t do anything political outside basic Labour party or TUC stuff without some kind of agreement from the union.

    This is clearly out of the norm.

    And, Roger, it’s not just commenting in a void.

    I made the point that this was from a ‘report’ given to ‘mainstream’ labour movement people.

    Andrew Coates

    December 21, 2012 at 11:50 am

  13. The accusation of “culthood” is all very pot-kettle indeed – given Andy Newman’s pretty much word-for-word endorsement of every utterance by George Galloway (PBUH) – right down to his position on South Ossetia (I mean, ffs, how many leftists had even heard of South Ossetia before 2008…and then…suddenly there is a line to be towed!).

    I did particularly like this Game-of-Thones-esque remark from Newman –

    “I am a hard person to intimidate, and your pathetic minnions have no sway in my world.”

    Alex Ross

    December 21, 2012 at 12:07 pm

  14. There may be some truth in this Paul.

    More widely there is the ‘sharpening of differences’ (aka the narcissism of small differences) that is a general feature of ideological politics, and not just the on the far-left.

    But these are theories amongst many.

    Personally I put the core of AWL’s politics down to what they themselves say: a deep interest in American Trotksyist history. Without that very few people would take much interest – outside the USA – in the early Max Sachtman.

    As somebody with a European leftist culture (with people like Gramsci, Luxemberg, Mandel, Althusser, Poulantzas, Anderson, Habermas, Negri, Rancière figuring large, positively and negatively) I had only had vaguely heard of Sachtman and some general ideas he was associated with until not that long ago.

    I find it hard to compare him in any serious way with Western Marxism and its offshoots.

    But the AWL do offer some explanation of their interest that is rather more than a contrarian position.

    Notably Three traditions: Marxism and the USSR, by Martin Thomas (Historical Materialism, Volume 14, Number 3, 2006) is very interesting and well argued.

    More here: http://www.workersliberty.org/node/7677

    Andrew Coates

    December 21, 2012 at 12:07 pm

  15. Alex, you could mean like another figure, Ragnaros (lord of the Firelands),

    He yells: “When I finish this, your pathetic mortal world will burn with my vengeance!”

    Andrew Coates

    December 21, 2012 at 12:53 pm

  16. “For example given the interminable wrangling in the UCU over the academic boycott of Israel are we to say that nobody who is not a fully paid up member has any right to publish an opinion?”
    Indeed. And it might be argued that smearing union activists as “anti-semites”, as the AWL routinely does, is not particularly helpful to their activity and smacks of a “witch hunt”. Which is why the AWL and its members are not particularly “beloved” to many.

    holy joe

    December 21, 2012 at 2:51 pm

  17. My fundamental problem with the AWL is that they freeze Shachtmanism in its 1950s Third Camp period and ignore what it developed into.

    We may not agree with Shachtman’s (alleged) position on Vietnam at the end of his life but it was an entirely logical development given his view of Stalinism as the greatest threat to world socialism.

    In this sense Alan Johnson who has moved all the way to a right social-democrat position is a better Shachtmanite than his erstwhile comrades.

    Also agree that the continental left tradition is intellectually far more interesting than the Anglo-American one (in which after all Chomsky is a giant and even a Tony Cliff counts as a significant figure).

    Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy)

    December 21, 2012 at 4:09 pm

  18. And despise it though we may there are iron laws of marketing that apply equally to any organisation with a product to sell.

    So while the AWL’s is hardly a story of rapid growth it has in fact survived over two decades where many other left factions have disappeared altogether or undergone such bizarre transmogrifications as the RCT/RCP or the eurocommunists of the CPGB – and I’d say this is down to its skill at differentiating its brand from what are sadly now nowhere near 57 other varieties of Trotskyism.

    But having created a truly distinctive and almost unique product it it has settled down in the little niche it established two decades or more ago and seems incapable of re-examining those of their ideas which no longer match the political reality of 2012 (above all the continued devotion to the two-state solution which even – and especially – in Israel nobody takes seriously any more).

    Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy)

    December 21, 2012 at 5:08 pm

  19. I agree that the Newman quote about himself just about finishes him off but why don’t you all have a look at what has been written here and then think why it is that the vast majority of the population of this country have utterly rejected it all time after time?


    December 22, 2012 at 5:30 am

  20. I’ve heard the “marketing niche” argument before. It’s hard to know how to respond to it. How, in your view, would we “disprove” it, if it wasn’t true (which it isn’t)? One bit of evidence might be how long we’ve existed as revolutionary Marxists without going the way of the RCP.

    Andrew, Sean M is not our “leader”.

    Pete S:
    1. Sorry, what’s your claim on NUS Liberation Campaigns? That we opposed them? But in fact that’s not simply not true. At various points we ran both the Women’s Campaign and the LGBT Campaign.
    2. In the early 1980s, we still supported a “democratic secular state” in Palestine.
    3. You had had 20 active CP students and 6 of them on the NUS executive – and it’s us who were manipulative?!
    4. Sorry, what’s wrong with calling a demonstration in the first term if NUS won’t? NCAFC did the same in 2011.

    We still have a our fare share of genial characters, as well as “revolutionary monks”. FFS…

    Sacha Ismail

    December 29, 2012 at 12:11 am

  21. Sacha, I don’t think the AWL are a ‘cult’ in any case, and I for one took the article I referenced to from HM by Martin Thomas very seriously

    The only group I have had anything to do with that resembled a religious cult was the Le Parti humaniste (the French Branch of the misnamed ‘Humanists’ who ahve nothing whatsoever to do with Humanism as in secularist UK group). http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parti_humaniste_(France).

    As the rep for my group on the organising committee for the post-Chernobyl demo I met them.

    Believe me they are a cult (reference above cites this allegation).

    Andrew Coates

    December 29, 2012 at 12:48 pm

  22. Given Andy Newman’s position on the right-wing/Stalinist end of the trade union movement, I was bemused to see him listed as a supporter of the anarchist paper The Westcountry Muntineer in their latest issue (see the last page):


    Very strange.


    December 30, 2012 at 2:43 pm

  23. Has Nooman ever divided workers into ‘indigenous’ and ‘non-indigenous’ categories? I recall last time I was bothered to look at his site, he was throwing the term ‘Han Chinese’ around as though he had some idea what he was talking about. From what I gather, he has a deep love/need for the authoritarian – the Catholic Church, Syria, China, the Russian Tory Party/call-me-Vova Putin and probably also cuddly mass murderer Ali Kamenei. Likes cricket though – or so the story goes.

    Faster Pussycat Miaow! Miaow! Miaow!

    December 30, 2012 at 11:25 pm

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