One of the UK’s biggest trade unions faces claims it failed to properly investigate allegations of antisemitism in a speech by a senior official, Jewish News can reveal.
A former senior official within the GMB union is alleged to have made a speech to colleagues at a function openly dismissing claims of antisemitism in the Labour Party and saying “rich bastard Jews” were responsible for the continued prominence of the issue.
The GMB’s acting general secretary Warren Kenny is understood to be so concerned about the way the investigation into the claims was handled that workplace dispute experts ACAS have now been brought in to conduct a thorough review of the case.
The alleged antisemitic speech was made in November 2019 at the GMB Southern Region Christmas Party which was held at the Holiday Inn in Guilford, Surrey.
Making reference to looming general election at the end of 2019, the union official, who has since left the role, told the audience he hoped Jeremy Corbyn’s chances of becoming prime minister were not harmed by what he said were false allegations of antisemitism.
The official is then alleged to have put the blame for the allegations on those “rich bastard Jews”.
There were around 40 people present at the function – mainly GMB office staff, but also some lay officials.
Following the speech several union members who were present at the function lodged official complaints about the alleged antisemitic remarks to a manager who had himself previously been outspoken in his opposition to all racism.
This manager proceeded to report the allegations to the highest level of the trade union – but sources claim there was a subsequent delay before a further investigation was launched.
Sources told Jewish News that late last year, now under the watch of GMB’s current acting general secretary Warren Kenny, steps were eventually taken to begin a proper investigation.
Another parliamentarian confirmed they had also seen the letter sent to Mr Kenny on the issue, which stated there was a need to investigate “allegations of antisemitism” in the union.
Another senior manager was then put in charge of the initial investigation.
Sources confirmed that “a number of whistle-blowers came forward to give evidence” leaving the senior manager concluding that “there was a case to answer” over the claim that a union official made an antisemitic speech.
The next stage, of a three-stage investigation process, was to attempt to interview as many people as possible who had been at the function.
A new official conducted this stage of the investigation, but reached a different conclusion.
“They arrived at the conclusion that because more people told him they did not hear the speech than told him they did hear it, the alleged incident of antisemitism did not take place,” revealed a source.
“They then took it upon themselves to conclude that there was no case to answer and effectively gave a clean bill of health to the colleague alleged to have made the remarks.
“To make a judgement that something didn’t happen just because some people said they didn’t hear it was a very strange one to say the least.”
It is understood that Mr Kenny, who was surprised that two investigations could reach different conclusions, next ordered a review into how the union had gone about investigating the claims.
Sources say Mr Kenny was so concerned about the issue he sought advice on the matter from the EHRC, the government’s independent antisemitism adviser Lord Mann, and from the TUC.
One union member admitted: “A lot of good people in the GMB are very uneasy about this. Allegations involving antisemitism or any form of racism have to be investigated properly, especially in a trade union.
“What type of message does it send to the wider membership and workforce if they are not?”
Union chiefs have now brought ACAS in to review all of the documents relating to the antisemitism probe.
GMB has more than 630,000 members, including many Jews.
Its members work in nearly all industrial sectors – including retail, security, schools, distribution, the utilities, social care and the National Health Service.
Asked to comment on the allegation of the antisemitic speech and the claim the union had not investigated it properly a GMB spokesperson told Jewish News:”GMB takes any allegation of antisemitism – or any form of racism – incredibly seriously.
“We have a zero tolerance policy and any report made is investigated thoroughly by the union.
“As a union that includes the Union of Jewish Garment Workers we stand shoulder to shoulder with Jewish communities in tackling the scourge of antisemitism across the globe.”
Jewish News has also approached ACAS for comment.
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