REEL NEWS STATEMENT ON #MeTU HIGH COURT VICTORY
*** UPDATE: MAy 13 2022: The TUC have responded to our statement and asked us to include their response, which we’re happy to do; it is directly after the paragraph that refers to TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady.
Last Saturday evening Reel News uploaded a video (above) detailing serious allegations against senior officers in the TSSA by former organiser, Claire Laycock. The TSSA, instead of taking them seriously and committing to a full investigation (as the GMB did when faced with similar claims) decided to immediately seek a court injunction to attempt to silence both Claire – and us – and get the video taken down.
Yesterday morning (Wednesday May 11), the judge threw the injunction out and ordered the TSSA to pay costs. We’re told this is unusual at this stage of proceedings and shows the court’s displeasure for the arguments raised by the TSSA. It means that the video now stays up forever, and we can share it and discuss the allegations within it. Make no mistake – this is a huge victory for free speech and press freedom.
We want to thank our union, the NUJ, for providing us with excellent legal representation and backing us 100% in this court action, fighting for our right to keep this video up in the public interest. And now we are hearing of further allegations, as more women from across the trade union movement feel emboldened to contact us as a result of Claire’s incredible bravery.
From Saturday night, people started getting in contact with us having watched the video. We heard allegations of at least six women (all former staff of the union) who had been sexually harassed by TSSA General Secretary, Manuel Cortes, but were also restricted by a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) from saying anything. We heard from people from outside the TSSA who alleged that they’d witnessed, or experienced, misogyny and sexism from TSSA senior officials. But we also heard allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assaults in other unions. And then with mounting horror we started hearing allegations of rape.
We knew that we would never have been made aware of any of these incidents if we hadn’t posted the video of Claire’s testimony – and now we are absolutely convinced that we need to push for a thorough investigation into the entire trade union movement.
On Monday, former Assistant General Secretary of the TSSA, John Page, shared our video with a public statement (which you can find on his Facebook page) stating that he’d raised concerns about a number of allegations about other women, similar to Claire’s, five years ago – and received no response from anyone on the TSSA Executive Committee. We have also seen evidence that Frances O’Grady, the General Secretary of the TUC, was written to at the same time, but declined to do anything about the concerns. Surely there is now a huge public interest in reporting – and being able to openly discuss – allegations that go right to the very top of our movement.
AMENDMENT MAY 13: TUC RESPONSE:
“Frances O’Grady became aware of the specific allegations against the General Secretary of TSSA when the Reel News video was posted on social media on 7 May 2022. She had not been aware of them previously. It is inaccurate to imply otherwise.
The use of NDAs in trade unions is stopping us from having that open discussion. And while the injunction against us has been thrown out, Claire’s injunction for breaking her NDA is still in place – at least until her hearing at the High Court on or around May 25th. So although everyone is now able to share Claire’s story and hear her story in the video, Claire herself is still silenced. This is an absolutely disgraceful state of affairs and we call on the TSSA to drop their injunction and revoke Claire’s NDA immediately. There will be a demonstration at the Royal Courts of Justice if the TSSA insists on going ahead.
But we have some questions for the TSSA too. We estimate that the court action they have launched against Reel News and Claire will have so far cost somewhere in the region of £15,000 – plus the court costs they have been ordered to pay today. That’s union members’ money. Where was the democratic discussion and mandate from members to agree to spend that money? Given that we are hearing allegations that more ex-TSSA employees have NDAs to stop them from speaking ill of the union, has the use of NDAs by a trade union (which was roundly condemned during the Me Too movement as their use to silence women emerged) been discussed by members? Wouldn’t an appropriate response to these allegations be for the Executive Committee of the TSSA to have an open and frank discussion involving their members with a view to banning the use of NDAs to silence women once and for all?
And to the rest of the trade union movement: let’s stop kidding ourselves and tell the truth. Sexism, sexual harassment and violence, and bullying of women working for trade unions is rife throughout the trade union movement. There are senior officials in virtually every union getting away with disgusting and abhorrent behaviour – and there are many more who enable their abuse by staying silent about it. How can we fight misogyny and sexism in the workplace if our own unions are riddled with it? And if so many of our best organisers and activists are being bullied and abused out of unions, leaving them with shattered confidence and multiple mental health issues, how the hell are we best equipping ourselves to fight a cost of living crisis and the biggest attack on workers living conditions in decades?
But we feel it’s much bigger even than that. Yesterday we heard from a trade unionist in Canada who’s seen our film and told us that they have an identical problem – and on top of that, Canadian Labour Congress data from April 2022 shows fewer members bring complaints about sexual harassment in unionized than in non unionized workplaces. We imagine it will be the same in many other countries.
Now think about all the huge social movements over the past few decades who have brought about real change or provided a real challenge to the system. The vast majority of them have been led by women, with women making up a majority of the activists. So for example, the popular assemblies of the uprising in Argentina in 2001 – 2002: an estimated 60% women. The militant piqueteros movement that was the cutting edge of that uprising: 70% women, typically under the age of 20. The Zapatistas only became such a powerful and influential movement after Commandante Ramona insisted that the first thing they had to do was to stamp out the sexism, misogyny and male violence within their ranks. The occupy movements of 10 years ago were dominated by women. And the incredible Chilean movement right now which is rolling back the dark days of the Pinochet dictatorship is also led by women, with feminist ideas at its very core.
In a decade that will decide the future of humanity with the deepening climate crisis, we need to change everything. If we manage to build the mass global movements to do that, they will be led by women – but that won’t happen unless we stamp out sexism, misogyny and male violence in our movement as the most urgent priority we have.
So please join the newly formed #meTU campaign (you’ll find them on Twitter), started by a group of women in the TSSA and other unions committed to ending sexism, sexual harassment and violence, and bullying in the trade union and labour movement. To those in our movement who have stayed silent so far: we understand why it’s been so difficult to speak up, but take courage from Claire – this is the time to do it. And to those abusers who are poisoning our movement: we don’t care how big and powerful you are. We know who you are, and we are coming for you.
And a final word on Claire Laycock. We are in awe of the incredible bravery she has shown in taking the decision to be the first woman to speak out publicly. She is a working class hero and will go down in history for what she has done. Now it’s up to the rest of us to show just a bit of that bravery and join her in that fight. Another world is possible.