Britain’s third largest trade union is “institutionally sexist” and “bullying, misogyny, cronyism and sexual harassment are endemic”, according to a lawyer’s report published last week.
Karon Monaghan QC’s report comes after the GMB union’s general secretary Tim Roache stepped down amid allegations of misconduct in May.
The report does not deal with the matters in the letter—addressed from “GMB Sisters” to the union’s president Barbara Plant—which had raised the concerns.
Monaghan’s report describes “an environment in which sexual harassment takes place and in which it goes largely unchallenged and unreported”.
“Complaints of sexual harassment by members and employees are rare”, but the union’s bullying and harassment policy “might deter a complainant from complaining”.
The bullying policy warns the complainant that, if the allegations are found to be “spurious”, “perpetrator/s will be subject to the GMB Disciplinary Procedure”.
Of the small number of complaints made, very few resulted in formal action being taken against the accused.
In one instance the complainant was told, “It was expected that an individual should ‘initially refer any complaint of this nature [advances] to the alleged perpetrator’.
“The complaint was peremptorily dismissed.”
The institutional sexism plays out in the representation of women in the GMB’s structures, with far fewer women in senior “officer grade” jobs rather than “staff grades”.
The report says this means “women are ‘seen’ as support staff because they are most likely to occupy those grades so making it more difficult for them to enter officer grades, reinforcing the job segregation and stereotyping around male and female roles”.
“When women do succeed in achieving more senior roles, it is often said that they have ‘slept their way to the top’,” it adds.
Monaghan’s report links the failings around sexual harassment to the GMB’s bureaucratic structures. She singles out the role of exclusively male regional secretaries “who hold the real power, along with the general secretary” and run “fiefdoms”.
This means that “challenging their authority is exceptionally difficult”. “There are, and have been, regional secretaries who maintain power largely through bullying, threats and victimisation and by creating a climate of fear,” the report says.
Monaghan says “fundamental change is required” but warns that “it will take robust and committed leadership to successfully push through the changes required”.
“I doubt that all of the regional secretaries will be keen to relinquish that power and so firm leadership will be required,” she says.
Monaghan makes 27 recommendations, including greater representation of women and a bespoke complaints procedure for sexual harassment.
The report comes against the backdrop of power struggles and manoeuvring within the GMB bureaucracy and Labour right.
Rank and file members of the union are absent in decision making in the “fiefdoms”.
Fundamental change requires a break from the way the union has been run, not a changing of the guard.