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Cronyism concerns were raised about the GMB leader by the woman who revealed secret recordings of her treatment at the union after she launched a sexual harassment complaint. 

It comes amid unfolding accusations of bullying and misogyny in the GMB union involving the general secretary Gary Smith who is being investigated after covert recordings revealed he warned a woman and whistleblower about getting into a ‘shooting match’ with the union.

The 36-year old woman who has not been identified, told LFF she believed the union tried to silence her after she confronted Gary Smith accusing him of cronyism and failing to follow the GMB’s own job evaluation process, which then followed a sexual harassment claim being launched against her.

She said she was speaking out in order to expose the culture within the organisation which she said prevents women speaking out for fear of being disciplined, and accused Smith of giving numerous top pay grade jobs to his mates. 

It started when the woman, who had worked in the GMB union for 10 years, made an official sexual harassment complaint about a fellow employee in 2022 however the union refused to open an investigation into her complaint calling it a ‘personal matter’.

Secret recordings have since revealed how Smith treated the senior woman, who said she was pressured to drop an employment tribunal and sign a gagging order, during a two-hour meeting in a hotel room in which Smith told her his lawyers were better and more expensive. 

Smith is heard saying: “You were in a shooting match. You pulled the gun out. What did you want to happen? You’re going to start swinging guns about, people are going to start shooting back at you.

“Once you get into a fight with a big organisation, we’re going to come out swinging and we’ll have better lawyers than you, and they’ll be more expensive.”

“There’s a learning from there – don’t get into that game, because everything then gets turned into something else. That’s just life.”

The former GMB employee said Karon Monaghan should be brought back to investigate the union, following Karon’s report in 2020 that found the GMB to be institutionally sexist with endemic cronyism, misogyny and bullying. Gary Smith was elected in 2021 on the promise and hope that he would implement the Monaghan report.

Labour MSP Monica Lennon, a GMB member, has since called for a full independent investigation into GMB’s leadership and processes after being ‘disturbed’ by the recordings.

The woman who made the secret recordings had worked closely with Gary Smith in Scotland. She told LFF that three days after raising concerns about cronyism to Smith via emails, she was suspended over bullying and sexual harassment allegations against herself, by someone the union described as a ‘junior’ colleague. 

The 52 year-old ‘junior’ who launched the allegation was also the rep for the person she opened her initial complaint into sexual harassment against. 

She also told LLF: “The day after I was suspended my region was told that approximately £250,000 was to be taken out of the regional budget to help offset the General Secretaries budget shortfall at national office.”

She has since been dismissed from the union due to the allegations, while new evidence has come to light that someone set up fake social media accounts to impersonate her and complicit her in wrong-doing for the claim.

In another video, recorded within an hour of the woman being suspended, a senior man is heard offering money for her exit before an investigation was conducted, which she refused. 

When the woman is asked whether she thinks she ‘can survive this again’ by a senior GMB representative she replied, “yes I do, if it’s an open, neutral, proper process, I do”, to which she gets the reply “well it’s not”.

The whistleblower, who said she was Gary’s “biggest supporter” in the organisation before what she experienced, believed he is trying to brush the allegations off as political attacks.

“He’s an expert at turning me into we”, she told LFF, before adding “it’s heartbreaking to watch”. 

In response, the GMB has denied allegations against Gary Smith and said his comments were taken out of context while highlighting how the woman involved had been dismissed for sexual harassment. 

GMB union responded to the video recordings: “Extraordinary levels of support had been given to the employee after that investigation to help her address those behaviours and these discussions were intended to ease her return to her role.

“Comments made at the meeting should be seen in that context and the employee would later write to the general secretary thanking him for the union’s support.”

“She has now been dismissed after a rigorous, fair and transparent disciplinary procedure. That decision by a three-strong, all-female disciplinary panel was upheld on appeal by a panel led by an external, independent KC.”

There are calls for the TUC or women’s rights organisations to be involved in determining the terms of reference for how investigations take place in trade unions, providing trauma-informed lawyers, and preventing unions from choosing their own legal representatives.

We approached the GMB union for comment about accusations of cronyism.

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

The post EXCLUSIVE: GMB leader accused of cronyism amid sexual harassment row appeared first on Left Foot Forward: Leading the UK’s progressive debate.

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