Rusere Shoniwa interviews WEU General Secretary Stephen Morris
The Workers of England Union (WEU) is quite possibly the only union in England to have robustly defended workers’ rights against no jab/no job policies following the Government’s coercive drive to maximise covid vaccine uptake. Such policies are clearly an affront to the basic rights of bodily autonomy, medical freedom and voluntary informed consent. It beggars belief that 75 years after Nazis were hanged at Nuremberg for violating this principle, governments across the world violated it all over again.
WEU has put itself on the right side of history by defending workers against the Government’s full-frontal assault on these basic human rights and, for that reason alone, I wanted to have a discussion with its General Secretary, Stephen Morris, about the battle that his union has fought for employees and what success it has had.
However, the WEU has also been associated with far-right politics owing to its association with the English Democrats, a party that is labelled as “far-right” by mainstream commentators. In addition to being the General Secretary of WEU, Stephen Morris is also the North West Area Chairman for the English Democrats.
I wanted to explore whether this characterisation of WEU as far-right is fair and to understand the extent, if any, to which WEU policy and operations are affected by the relationship of its General Secretary with the English Democrats. I also wanted to explore some potential contradictions between the union’s position on bodily autonomy and some of the English Democrats’ policy positions. I think it’s valid to explore this given that Stephen Morris straddles two roles as both head of WEU and a senior ranking member of the English Democrats.
Stephen Morris’s active participation in trade unionism began as a branch secretary for Unite in 2000, when he was working for Metrolink, Greater Manchester’s tram/light rail network. It was around this time that he started to question whether England needed its own Parliament as the Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh Assemblies were taking root. He also became disenchanted with what he saw as a lack of transparency in annual union pay negotiations: senior union representatives appeared to be doing deals with senior management behind closed doors and presenting them to the shop floor as a fait accompli.
As someone who identifies strongly with England and wants to advance its interests, Stephen had a brief flirtation with the Conservative Party but left it after concluding that English nationalism within the United Kingdom would not be advanced under that party. It was in 2009 that he joined the English Democrats, who were campaigning for the advancement of English interests within the Union of UK nations. Around this time, his disenchantment with the disconnect between the trade union hierarchy and its members led him to collaborate with a few like-minded colleagues to form the WEU.
WEU has been successful in fighting no jab/no job mandates mainly by exploiting technical breaches of employment law. As a result, its membership grew from slightly over 1,000 in 2019 to the current level of over 9,000 in 2022.
A key difference between WEU and other unions is that its union reps are not workers’ reps with employer line managers. They therefore avoid the conflicts that can arise when a union rep’s boss is also the boss of the employee with a grievance. On a nod and a wink, union reps can be given preferential workplace treatment that might colour their judgement when handling employee grievances. WEU reps are not connected in any way to the employer, which removes this type of conflict.
Hope Not Hate (HNH), a charity that claims to campaign against racism, has alleged that WEU is not a legitimate union but rather an association without any obvious benefits to its paying members. Stephen Morris responded that the claim is false. WEU has been a certified union since 2012 and is required to comply with the same regulations as all other trade unions. It submits annual audited accounts and reports to a certification body that is now its regulator since April. Stephen Morris asserts that WEU is subject to and complies with the same regulations as major unions like Unite, Unison and GMB.
HNH also assert that the English Democrats are “far right” and known for their anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim attitudes. Crucially, they claim that WEU is guilty by association. There are two strands to this that I asked Stephen Morris to respond to. First, are the WEU’s professional interactions with members affected by the political views, whatever they might be, of its management? Second what is his response to the claim that his party propagates distasteful far-right views?
On the first point, Stephen asserted that the union is run professionally, and the politics of its officials does not affect its representation of members. He says its workplace is like any other in which people of different political backgrounds leave their politics at the door in order to work together to deliver a professional service. As far as he is concerned, there are simply no grounds for assuming that the WEU is incapable of providing services independently of its managers’ personal political views.
My view is that, in the absence of any complaints by WEU members on this point, it’s hard to give credence to HNH’s allegations. To assume, without evidence (and HNH has not provided any), that HNH’s allegations are credible is to assume that WEU is somehow incapable of drawing a line between the professional service it offers to its members and the personal politics of its management. Bring me the evidence and I’ll change my mind.
You would also have to credulously accept other implausible scenarios such as WEU vetting members to ensure they shared the same political views as WEU management. Again, show me the evidence and I’ll change my mind.
On Stephen Morris’s personal political positioning within the English Democrats, he sees himself as being to the left of the party’s agenda, which, in his view, makes him a centrist in broader national political terms.
When pushed on whether the English Democrats can fairly be characterised as a far-right party, Stephen discussed the party’s evolution from initially absorbing BNP and EDL members in its early days, which he described as “unfortunate”. He claims these hardliners left the party after they realised that it was not branding itself as ethno-nationalist. Stephen Morris maintains that the Party’s manifesto has an emphasis on community and that several senior ranking Council members were not born in the UK. He says they are a party “for anyone who wants to live and work in England.”
He talked about England’s inclusivity and its history of absorbing immigration, not as something he regrets but as something which he sees as contributing to England’s character. That said, I expressed the view that the party’s manifesto, on my reading of it, seems to lay many of England’s problems squarely at the feet of immigrants. That looks very much like a form of scapegoating, the consequences of which could be quite ugly, as we know from the scapegoating of the unvaccinated. I asked Stephen how he reconciles the apparent moral contradiction of working for a union that doesn’t tolerate scapegoating of the unvaccinated and being active in a party that appears to scapegoat immigrants in its party manifesto language.
In response to this, Stephen Morris maintained that the party is not against immigration but that it wants controlled immigration. Hardly a radical position in today’s political landscape. Stephen recalled a video some years ago promoting England’s participation in the Commonwealth Games. It featured people from different backgrounds and ethnicities all training for the Games and ended with the slogan: “We are England.” Stephen said he wished that the English Democrats had produced that campaign for themselves.
When questioned on the prevalence of the term ‘indigenous English’ in the party’s manifesto and the implications for a potential preferencing of the rights of one group over another, Stephen asserted that the aim is not to suppress other cultures but to re-assert the right of English people to express nationalist sentiment in ways that have become taboo, such as displaying the Saint George’s cross.
I raised allegations made by Silkie Carlo of Big Brother Watch who, at a Left Lockdown Sceptics meeting earlier this year, said:
“I think pushing people to unions like the Workers of England Union is a bad idea. They’re run by people from a right-wing party … they’re against the Human Rights Act. They’re against equality law.”
Having already explored the whole “right-wing” issue, I was keen to focus on the alleged anti-Human Rights and anti-equality law position of the English democrats. Could scrapping the Human Rights Act be an act of self-sabotage by opening the door to legalising the scrapping of bodily autonomy and other rights foundational to individual liberty and workers’ rights? Here Stephen Morris claimed that the current Human Rights Act waters down England’s original Bill of Rights and that the English Democrats would seek to enact a Bill of Rights that would not diminish existing rights in any way.
On this point, Stephen said all the right things, but I remain sceptical of the intentions of any party that wants to fix something that isn’t broken. The devil will be in the detail, and I’ll make up my mind when there’s more detail.
On the question of cooperating across political lines Stephen stated emphatically:
“I’ll cooperate with anybody who’s there to protect the rights of the individual in employment, freedom of speech, bodily autonomy.”
He then recounted one of the strangest weeks he’d had in his time with WEU:
“I had two meetings. One was with a Muslim guy who was up for a disciplinary on free speech. And his issue was he wanted the abolition of Israel. And we defended his rights and he kept his job. And in the same week, I was representing a Jewish guy who had made derogatory comments about Islam … We kept them their jobs because at the end of the day, my job is to represent them and their rights.” Would I join the Workers of England Union on the strength of this interview with its General Secretary? Likely.