pave the way for

Solidarity – The Union for British Workers

Solidarity – The Union for British Workers is a United Kingdom trade union formed in late 2005 that is closely associated with the British National Party and Third Way think tank. It is named after the Polish trade union Solidarność, and its logo (which it has trademarked) also appears to be derived from that of the Polish union.

Stated aims of Solidarity

According to documents lodged with the Certification Office, which regulates matters concerning trade unions, Solidarity aims to "improve the relations between employers and employees throughout all industries served by the union"; "to protect, assist and promote the working and living conditions of the citizens of the British Isles"; '"resist and oppose all forms of institutional union corruption"; "promote freedom within and without the Trades Union movement, protecting and promoting freedom of belief, thought and speech, irrespective of political and religious affiliation or creed".

The documents make no mention of race, but Solidarity's General Secretary has repeatedly stated that membership is open to people of all ethnic, religious and political backgrounds. A statement on the Solidarity website backs this view: "Our aim in Solidarity is to unite all workers, from all racial, religious and political backgrounds".. The Union has distributed material aimed at recruiting from ethnic minority communities

According to a former member of its 'management team', the union is likely to contribute funds to the BNP via a political levy (see "BNP to benefit from Political Fund?" below}. The General Secretary of Solidarity, has explicitly rejected any claim that the union will fund any political party and stated that it will remain independent of all parties.

"One big union"

Solidarity recruits from all industrial sectors and professions. Solidarity has already stated that it has no plans to apply for affiliation to the TUC and will not be bound, therefore, by agreements not to poach members from other unions.

The Solidarity website states: "Solidarity recruits from all industrial sectors and professions. We have members in the health service, education, railways, construction to give just a few examples. We believe in ‘One Big Union’."

"The idea is not new. In 1834 Robert Owen formed the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union in an attempt to unite all the workers into one Union. Initiatives for One Big Union have occurred across the world. Most notable was the attempt of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or the Wobblies) to organise One Big Union in the United States, Canada, and Australia and the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) in Spain. We have no particular ideological affinity with either group, nor are we affiliated, but like them we see the sense of organising across trades and professions.

First Annual Conference

The first Annual Conference of Solidarity was held at the Alexandra Suite of the Royal National Hotel in Bloomsbury on 24 February 2007. The Conference went ahead despite threats of violence from those opposed to the Union. This was largely due to the fact that agents for the Union had spread the false rumour that it had been postponed. Searchlight magazine (amongst others) repeated this in its March 2007 issue:- 'BNP trade union cancels AGM in fear of exposure'.

The Annual Conference passed a number of resolutions. These included:-

  • A resolution a model rules paving the way for the establishment of a political fund
  • A resolution amending the Constitution to pave the way for recruitment amonst police and prison officers
  • Resolutions establishing the relationship between the Executive and Industrial Sector heads
  • A resolution allowing Solidarity members to belong to other Unions (this was amended to state that officials of Solidarity could not have such dual membership).

Second Annual Conference

The union's second Annual Conference was held in the Apollo Hotel, Birmingham on February 23, 2008. It was chaired by Union President Adam Walker. After the formalities of reading and passing the minutes of the previous AGM and the Special Meeting of July 2007 (and re-passing all motions passed there) were completed, members heard the General Secretary Patrick Harrington deliver an upbeat assessment from of the Union's progress in the past year and potential for the future. He detailed hysterical attacks from the Labour Party and the ultra-left in parliament and the blogosphere. He warned, however, that establishment-sponsored attacks on our Union were likely to be a feature of our development and that we would need to plan for this. He assured members that the Union would not react but would instead respond after due consideration and in the most appropriate fashion to all such provocations. Executive Committee member David Kerr read out the motions and moderated the discussions on them with the timekeeping assistance of Amanda Foster. A special motion endorsed and confirmed the resolutions and decisions of the Special Conference held on July 14th 2007. Four general motions came up for discussion: the role of Muslims in the Union; the 'off-shoring' of jobs in the light of the Electrolux decision to close their Spennymoor factory; the general decline in trade union membership and the opportunities this presents for recruitment; and the CIS self-employment scheme in the building industry. The two motions on off shoring and the decline of trade union membership were passed unanimously. An amendment that confirmed that membership of Solidarity is open to everyone whatever their political, or religious affiliations or their cultural and ethnic background was passed and therefore the proposal to exclude those of the Islmaic faith fell. The Executive Committee undertook to draw up a set of positive Union Principles and Ethics for the next Annual Conference.

Connections to BNP?

Leadership political profile

Union President Adam Walker is a British National Party (BNP) member Independently scrutinised elections to the Solidarity Executive were held in November 2007. Those elected for five year terms were Garry Aronsson, Simone Clarke and Mark Walker (BNP members), David Durant and David Kerr (National Liberal Party members).

General Secretary Patrick Harrington is a member of the National Liberal Party and Third Way (UK), and not a member of the BNP. He is, however, a veteran of far-right politics in the UK, who formerly served on the leadership of the National Front. He voted to disband the organisation in 1989. It is said that he maintains some contact with his former NF colleague and current BNP chairman Nick Griffin (see entry on Harrington for more details). The National Liberal Party and Third Way appear to have significant policy differences with the BNP.

Union response

Solidarity has contradicted the BNP Press Statement. It says it does not have a 'Management Team'. In a letter to Personnel Today, General Secretary Harrington said:-

"First, let me deal with the allegation that the ‘management team’ of our Union is linked to the BNP. Our Union doesn't have a ‘management team’. It has a National Executive. Currently this comprises three positions, General Secretary, President and Vice-President. Only our President (Clive Potter) is a member of the BNP. Lee Barnes who you mention in the article is a member but not currently an official. Our Union rejects political vetting and McCarthyism. We are open to people of all faiths, political beliefs, ethnic and cultural backgrounds and sexual orientation.

BNP to benefit from political fund?

In a report in the newspaper Wales on Sunday, John Walker, National Treasurer for the BNP, said that the union is likely to contribute funds to the party.

"There probably will be a political levy at some stage to the BNP just as other unions raise money for Labour. It is quite possible and feasible that when Solidarity becomes fully functional some element of funds raised will be donated to the BNP, but that will have to be decided through consultation with the membership.

Solidarity's General Secretary Harrington, responded in a letter to the newspaper that this was Walker's "personal opinion", that the recipients of union grants would be decided directly by members, and that members could opt out of the political fund.

Allegations of front status

Allegations that Solidarity is a BNP front organisation were first made by Searchlight magazine on the Stop the BNP website on 24 January 2006 and repeated by Barrie Clement in The Independent, 1 February 2006.

The BNP denies that Solidarity is a 'front'. Instead it argues that Solidarity enjoys BNP support because it does not politically vet members and opposes globalisation. It has publicised the organisation on its website.

Union response

Pat Harrington has also denied that Solidarity is a BNP front in a statement on the website of his party, Third Way (UK), adding that "Anyone who supports workers rights is welcome and that includes both members of the BNP and Communists. This latter claim seems to contrast with the BNP's statement that Solidarity is "a group of ... victims of Marxist persecution in the workplace" and that "[t]he Marxists in charge of the unions have only themselves to blame for the creation of this new union. Harrington argues that the BNP position represents their interpretation and that "The Solidarity Union does not bar members on account of race, religion, sexuality or political opinion. The Harrington viewpoint appears to be the official line as the first bulletin of Solidarity stated: "the established Union or Unions will seek to present us as a ‘BNP front’. This is as a result of our principled stand against political vetting or discrimination. We believe the function of a Union is to represent the interests of workers. The easiest way to disprove this allegation, however, is to recruit from as diverse a base as possible. Our Union is open to all. We already have a diverse membership.

Solidarity has defended representing BNP members:-

"...we are firmly opposed to unfair discrimination in employment. Not just for those from a different racial or religious background, or the disabled and aged, or those with a different sexuality. Of course we support workers who challenge this but our Union goes further. We don't believe anyone should be treated more harshly as a result of his or her political opinion. We regard this as part of what we term 'the new McCarthyism'. We are prepared to speak out on this controversial issue. We have supported members of the controversial British National Party threatened on account of their politics. We would do the same for Communists or Socialists. We still believe that democracy and basic rights are worth fighting for. This gets us a lot of flak but it is a matter of principle. We are a fighting Union that isn't afraid to go against the consensus if we think it is right.

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