Big Business and the Moderates

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Report by David Osler

Journalist David Osler's first book Labour Party Plc: New Labour as a Party of Business is published by Mainstream Publishing on Sept. 25th with forward by Paul Foot. The following expose appeared in 1995 as part of a CPSA Rank & File supplement 'Inside the Moderates'. An article by Seumas Milne and David Osler was published in The Guardian Sept. 9, 1995.

Big Business and the Moderates - open the books

Is the Moderate group in the Civil and Public Servants Association (CPSA) supported by any forces outside the Union? The recent discovery that the CPSA is affiliated to both the Jim Conway Foundation (JCF), which is indirectly financed by leading Conservatives, and the Trades Union Committee for European and Transatlantic Understanding (TUCETU), a group with close links to the US embassy, re-opens an old and somewhat intriguing question.

There is a long history of outside backing for the CPSA right. In the fifties, a reactionary grouping called the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists was instrumental in ousting communists from what was then the Civil Service Clerical Association.

Again in 1978, the CPSA National Moderate Group was forced to admit that it had received financial assistance from a group linked to a far right army officer, who had organised a private paramilitary strike breaking force during the massive industrial unrest of the period.

Given the track record of the secret state in the National Union of Mineworkers, it is inconceivable that the Thatcher government would have sat back while Trotskyists built a strong influence in a key civil service union in the eighties.

Industrial Research and Information Services, a big-business funding grouping which secretly gave hundreds of thousands of pounds to ring-wing trade unionists, paid close interest to CPSA affairs.

So who are the JCF and TUCETU? JCF purports to be a legitimate trade union body offering a wide range of research and education services. But Rank & File has established that it draws the bulk of its funding from a charitable trust with a long track record of giving money to intelligence-linked anti-communist activity. Trustees include two former Thatcher government ministers. Full details of the foundation and its role in the labour movement will appear in a national newspaper shortly.

CPSA General Secretary Barry Reamsbottom, President Marion Chambers and former President Kate Losinska are listed on the headed notepaper of TUCETU, joining other top trade union right wingers such as Paul Gallagher and Bill Jordan of the AEEU, former Labour defence minister and staunch NATO supporter John Gilbert MP, and two officials of AFL-CIO the American TUC.

On May 10 (1995), TUCETU organised a joint forum at the House of Commons with the Atlantic Council of the UK. Main speaker was a former Tory defence minister, Sir Dudley Smith.

A letter sent from TUCETU director Peter Robinson to the CPSA also notes:

"I am hopeful that through the good offices of Dan Turnquist, the Counsellor for Labour Affairs at the American embassy, we will have an opportunity in the near future of meeting the current ambassador, Hon. Admiral Crowe. I will keep you posted."

There has been a long line of American intelligence-backed organisations oriented to the right of the unions and the Labour Party, all using the words 'Atlantic' or 'Transatlantic' in their titles. These date back to 1960, when the Labour Party briefly adopted a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament.

The CIA obviously wanted the policy reversed. The simplest way to achieve this was to influence British union officials. At that time the unions controlled 90% of the votes at Labour conferences, which in those days really did make party policy.

Rank & File has tabled questions under the powerful US Freedom of Information Act asking for full details of TUCETU and contacts between British trade unionists and the embassy's Counsellor for Labour Affairs. Undercover ruling-class activity in the labour movement has been taking place ever since the now-defunct Economic League was established in the wake of the Russian revolution to draw up blacklists of trade union activists.

More direct intervention can be traced back to the fifties, with the launch of a group called Common Cause, which exists to this day. This group linked 'better-dead-than-red' military men and Tory right-wingers with union officials under fire from the rank and file left.

Common Cause established a trade union front, under the name Industrial Research and Information Services (IRIS) in 1956. Thirty year old government papers, made public for the first time last January, reveal that in 1963 the Tory government gave IRIS £40,000 (equivalent to £500,000 in today's money) from the intelligence budget, with the stated intention of influencing elections in unions where Communists had a base. IRIS got almost as much again from the private sector, including oil company Shell and motor manufacturer Rootes.

The move was personally sanctioned by the prime minister, Harold Macmillan, after he was approached on IRIS' behalf by Lord Shawcross, a former Labour cabinet minister.

Directors have included former general secretaries of NALGO, NUS/UWT, ISTC and the old seafarers', agricultural and woodworkers' unions, frequently linked as members of the TUC general council, as well as a second former Labour cabinet minister, Ray Gunter.

In the seventies, IRIS was joined by TRUEMID, the Movement for True Industrial Democracy. TRUEMID was initially financed by Colonel David Stirling, the founder of the Special Air Services (SAS), who at this time was also working on plans to establish a private paramilitary strike force. The general secretary of TRUEMID, Bob Matthews, was a former CPSA assistant secretary and MoD section secretary. Three other ex-CPSA activists also took paid posts at TRUEMID. J. 'Chalky' White, former MoD section chair; John Whale, who had been on the DHSS section executive; and Martin Humphries, a former DHSS area secretary in the West Midlands. As well as this overlap of personnel, Losinska was forced to admit that TRUEMID financially lent money to finance the publication of the Moderates' newsletter, Daylight. This flatly contradicted earlier statements from the Moderate group that it received no money from outside the union.

TRUEMID attempted to influence union elections. One of its documents, which leaked to the press, contained detailed instructions on how to mobilise passive supporters for meetings. This was vital in the period before postal ballots, when voting papers were only made available through union branches.

TRUEMID is thankfully long defunct. But IRIS was busier than ever in the late eighties, when Militant Tendency was at the peak of its influence in the CPSA. IRIS - traditionally oriented to blue collar unions - suddenly began to show strong interest. Its newsletter IRIS NEWS reprinted CPSA election results in full, with extensive commentary openly backing the Moderates.

By this stage, most of IRIS's money came through a charity called the Industrial Trust. This body was established by Tory and Labour peers, and raised up to £147,000 a year, handing the bulk over to IRIS.

Among the companies intervening in their employees' unions through tax-deductible charitable donations were Allied Lyons, Bass, Boots, BP, Cadbury Schweppes, Cunard, GKN, Glaxo, Grand Metropolitan, Guinness, Hanson, ICI, Metal Box, NEI, P&O, Rugby Portland, Scottish and Newcastle, TI Group, Unilever, United Biscuits, United Newspapers and Whitbread.

IRIS probably had more ready cash than every union Broad Left in Britain put together. Here was a well-funded organisation, in business to fight the left in union elections, and known to have followed CPSA affairs.

IRIS would itself down in 1992, believing that the collapse of Stalinism and the defeats suffered by the working class in the eighties meant the end of the red menace.

This article reposted from, where it was posted on 18/07/02