A trade union leader has been given until Monday to explain why he shouldn’t be expelled from Labour over links to a group banned by the party, HuffPost UK can reveal.
Ian Hodson, national president of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU), has been warned he faces “auto-exclusion” because he was listed as a sponsor of the Labour Against the Witchhunt (LAW) protest group.
Labour Against the Witchunt, which has claimed allegations of anti-Semitism aimed at Jeremy Corbyn supporters are politically motivated attacks, was one of four groups proscribed by the party in July.
Hodson was sent a letter by the party’s governance unit last month, warning him he faced expulsion unless he could explain his alleged links to the group.
But the move sparked heavy criticism of Keir Starmer from many on the Left, and the bakers’ union – which is one of Labour’s oldest trade union affiliates – has threatened to sever all ties with the party it has supported since 1902.
The union, which has just under 20,000 members and has a vital seat on the party’s ruling National Executive Committee, has warned that it will hold a special disaffiliation conference to coincide with Starmer’s annual conference speech this month if Hodson’s expulsion goes ahead.
In a last-ditch bid to find a compromise, HuffPost UK understands that the deadline for a full reply from Hodson has been extended by the party to September 6 and he is in consultation with his solicitor and plans to mount a robust defence.
Hodson’s supporters say he had no idea that Labour Against the Witchhunt’s website had listed him as a “sponsor” – an offence that was among the reasons filmmaker Ken Loach was auto-excluded – and his name has now been removed from the website.
Hodson did strongly protest at the suspension of the bakers’ union’s former general secretary Ronnie Draper in 2016, but some of his allies say the party has erroneously mixed him up his desire to see suspended members given a fair hearing with LAW’s other activities.
Corbyn also objected to Draper’s suspension during the Labour leadership contest against Owen Smith. The union chief was later reinstated as a party member and says the charges against him were “spurious”.
Draper told HuffPost UK: “Like thousands of us before him, Ian has been a strong advocate for freedom of speech and a strong democratic process. The Labour Party appears to be ditching these founding values and with it trade unionists and lifelong socialists like Ian.
“If we allow our party to expel socialists like Ian Hodson and Pamela Fitzpatrick [another member accused of links to proscribed groups], then I fear the Labour Party will become a dictatorship that won’t listen to different opinions, no matter how relevant. Solidarity comrades, we are with you.”
If the party accepts Hodson’s defence he could avoid expulsion and the bakers disaffiliation threat may be ditched.
However, HuffPost UK understands that some in the party’s HQ believe there are clear grounds for expulsion beyond the “sponsor” description on the LAW website.
Labour Against the Witchhunt has been highly critical of Starmer’s handling of the anti-Semitism controversy and his decisions following the Equalities and Human Rights Committee (EHRC)’s damning verdict into the issue.
The EHRC ruled there had been “unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination for which the Labour Party is responsible” and this year’s party conference in Brighton is set to adopt new rule changes to comply with the watchdog’s recommendations for reform.
Allies of Starmer believe it would be regrettable to have any union disaffiliate, and point out Hodson’s expulsion would not be a comment on the union as a whole.
But some Labour MPs believe the union, which often allies with Unite and Left members of the NEC in key votes, should be replaced on the ruling body in favour of a larger union like the Musicians’ Union or steel workers union Community.
More broadly, the bakers’ union was among those on the Left which heavily criticised Labour’s decision to proscribe four groups.
Starmer is understood to be firmly behind the proscriptions, believing they send a message that the party won’t tolerate extremism or entryism.
Loach was deemed to have expelled himself from Labour after he failed to reply to a letter warning him he faced auto-exclusion unless he could explain within seven days his support for Labour Against the Witchhunt.
Pamela Fitzpatrick’s threatened expulsion has also rallied many on the Left. She says among the accusations against her are that she spoke at a Zoom event that contained some expelled members, and that she gave an interview to the banned group Socialist Appeal.