John Lyons Is No Sell Out

John Lyons , who was a UNISON offical then Labour MP for Stathkelvin and Bearsden from 2000 to 2005, couldn't be more different from Alastair Campbell

(This is a reply to a Nick Cohen article in the Observer referring to John Lyons, who was Labour MP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden from 2000 till 2005 when he lost his seat due to boundary changes and Blair's war on Iraq - which John consistently voted against in parliament)

Nick Cohen (‘No Labour man would ever have leapt on this bus’ Observer 8th July 2007 ) refers to former Labour MP John Lyons as an example of socialists working for firms (FirstGroup) they shunned in the past. I know John and had the pleasure of doing research on Iraq for him in 2002 and 2003.

Progressive columnists in the past would never have allowed themselves to be deceived into supporting an aggressive war against the people of a country that was no threat to Britain or the US purely as part of an attempt to monopolise the world’s oil and gas reserves and export routes. Nor would they have provided cover to a brutal occupation involving systematic torture on the grounds that some of its opponents were also brutal.

John Lyons consistently opposed that war and voted against it.

John also travelled to Saudi Arabia to demand justice for several British citizens , including one of his constituents, who were falsely charged with criminal offenses by the Saudi authorities and had false confessions extracted from them under torture

Mentioning John Lyons in the same article as Alastair Campbell, who conspired to deceive everyone to start that un-necessary war, gives the inaccurate impression that John is comparable to Alastair Campbell, which is very far from the truth.

John, with no weekly column to pay the bills, has less choice than Nick in which job offers to accept.

How John's work in the FirstGroup dispute promotes employees' rights - including the right to join a union of their choice if they want to

Thankfully Nick notes John’s criticism of anti-union practices by some FirstGroup managers. However he implies that John has some how "sold out" by working for FirstGroup. In fact John Lyons before being an MP spent many years as an officer in the health service union UNISON. Nor has he since become anti-union. In 2006, when he was no longer an MP, he was hired by FirstGroup as a consultant to investigate allegations (made by the Teamsters union) of anti-union practices by some FirstGroup managers in the US . As a former union man himself he was acceptable to the unions FirstGroup was dealing with.

Lyons' initial investigation reported that some such practices had taken place. After FirstGroup managers said this would be rectified he conducted a second investigation the next year and his next report found these practices had ended.

FirstGroup managers agreed to implement Lyons' reccomendations on reform of their practices.

Union membership (including Teamsters membership) rose at an unprecedented rate after Lyons' first report and the reforms that resulted from it. Now 27% of FirstGroup employees are union members. The average for firms operating in the US is just 7%.

The teamsters union is widely seen as having a chequered past. From 1964 it was headed by the controversial Jimmy Hoffa, who was repeatedly investigated due to allegations of corruption and mafia links but massively expanded the Teamsters' membership and made it one of the most powerful unions in the US. (Deals between the Mafia and some Teamsters officials allegedly began in the 1920s)

He was jailed for 15 years in 1964 on a charge of attempted bribery. He was released in 1971 by President Nixon on condition that he cease all trade union activity (a condition he intended to challenge). He disappeared in 1975 after allegedly going to meet two mafia men.

The Teamsters President is now Jimmy P. Hoffa, the son of Jimmy Hoffa.

The Teamsters still hold events such as golf games and poker matches with anyone who wants to attend being required to donate between $500 and $1300 to the Jimmy Hoffa Memorial Scholarship Fund, which is a registered charity in the US - and so tax exempt.

Perhaps Nick Cohen should do slightly more research - and possibly even contact some of the people and organisations his articles refer to - before implying that people like John Lyons are "anti-union".

Some unions, like some companies, may or may not be as straightforward as they appear at first glance. Former Union officials and former Labour MPs working as consultants for companies can sometimes improve the status of trade unions, as Lyons seems to have done, rather than having "sold out".

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copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2007