Hugh Lanning is a British pro-Palestinian activist and former trade union official. He was the Deputy General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), one of Britain's largest trade unions, until May 2013. He has been the Chairman of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) since 2009, and in 2013 was named a vice chair of the group Unite Against Fascism (UAF).
In 2015, Hugh stood to become the Labour candidate for the Canterbury and Whitstable Constituency, in Kent. Despite not winning the seat, he did increase the Labour vote share and came second in the election results.
Lanning has played a major role in persuading trade unions in Britain to declare solidarity with the Palestinians and to support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement. During his tenure at PCS, Lanning was active in the effort to keep people he considered 'fascists' or 'racists' out of the union and out of union workplaces.
Lanning worked for the civil service trade unions for over 30 years, starting with the Civil Service Union and all the subsequent merged unions.” As Deputy Chairman of PCS, the UK's largest civil service trade union, he served on the National Trade Union Committee, and was responsible for negotiations with the Cabinet Office on jobs, pensions, and personnel management issues.
Lanning lost an election for General Secretary of PCS in 2000 to Mark Serwotka. His loss was widely described as unexpected. Lanning accepted the result and agreed to serve as Serwotka's deputy, but the incumbent General Secretary, Barry Reamsbottom, declared the result invalid and continued in office.
At a “massive” Voices for Lebanon and Palestine rally in Trafalgar Square in July 2006, organized by PSC with the help of CND, Stop the War Coalition, British Muslim Initiative, Lebanese Muslim League, Lebanese Welfare Community and Friends of Al-Aqsa, Lanning spoke alongside actors Corin Redgrave, Kika Markham, Bill Paterson, and others, saying that “the British trade union movement has a good record on many international issues, but not on Palestine.”
At the PCS annual conference in May 2008, “an executive motion demanding justice for Palestine won overwhelming support,” reported the Morning Star. Lanning told conference attendees that while in Gaza “he had seen bloodstains where people had been shot and the burnt-out remains of shops and homes and he had met a terrified mother who spent three days in one room of her house as Israeli soldiers wrecked the rest of it while using it as a base.” Lanning said: “Wherever we went, asking our clever questions, the answer was always the same. 'It's the occupation, stupid.'” He added that “There is no free Palestine - it doesn't exist. The occupation is all there is and it is up to us to help a free Palestine become a reality.” He rejected arguments that Israel was at war. “Israel will not gain security without peace, certainly not by building walls, and there is only one way that Israel will have peace and that's with a free and independent Palestine.”
Lanning was named chairman of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) in 2009.
Lanning told attendees of the Progressive London conference in February 2010 that the “seismic” change that had resulted in widespread trade-union support for the Palestinian cause must be expanded into a mass movement.
Lanning went to Liverpool in May 2010 to address workers who were striking to protest changes in public-sector pensions.
In May 2010, at the annual Nakba rally outside 10 Downing Street, organized by PSC, Stop the War Campaign, CND, and the British Muslim Initiative, Lanning said: “We want to hold this new government to account on international law and we want the Lib Dems to fulfil the pledges they made to us before the election on fighting for the human rights of Palestinians.”
Lanning addressed anti-Government protesters in York in February 2011 as part of a local campaign against budget cuts.
During a U.S. visit in 2011, Lanning was the keynote speaker at the ninth annual convention of Al-Awda, an organization allegedly linked to pro-terrorist groups. His speech was entitled “The Role of Trade Unions and Solidarity Campaigns in the Struggle for the Liberation of Palestine.”
Hugh Lanning spoke at the annual rally outside 10 Downing Street in May 2011, telling the audience that “The Arab Spring brings us hope but also means real challenge to ensure UK government changes its policy. We must keep the pressure up until there is a free and independent Palestine.”
At a conference in June 2011, Lanning called for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
In an October 2011 article for the Morning Star, the daily newspaper of the Communist Party of Britain, Lanning promoted the forthcoming Celebrate Diversity, Defence Multiculturalism conference, praised British diversity, deplored “the growth of Islamophobia,” and explained that PCS “sees its role to defend [the] anti-fascist tradition by teaming up with others in the trade union movement to voice the alternatives to the rise of the extreme right.” PCS was campaigning, he explained, “to have fascists banned from the Civil Service.”
On 15 October 2011, Lanning spoke at the Unite Against Fascism-sponsored One Society Many Cultures national convention, a “one-day national convention bringing together a broad alliance celebrating diversity, rejecting Islamophobia and fascism.”
An October 2011 article by Lanning in the Morning Star described the British media coverage of the Israel-Palestinian conflict as unbalanced. “Solidarity with Palestine,” Lanning wrote, “is born and bred on anti-racist principles, of distaste for a people being oppressed by virtue of their race, of the dishonour that is done to those who hold dear the values of their religions.”
In a January 2012 op-ed, Lanning accused the Israeli Supreme Court of racism after it upheld a law denying Israeli citizenship spouses of Israeli citizens who are Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza Strip or from designated “enemy states.” Noting that this law was one of more than 30 Israeli laws identified by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, as being discriminatory, he called on readers “to challenge this racism and support a framework of human rights, peace and justice,” and identified two firms, Ahava and Veolia, to be boycotted.
Lanning spoke at the Unite Against Fascism Conference on 28 February 2012. “If history has taught us anything, it's never to turn our back on the threat posed by fascism,” Lanning told Labour Research in April 2012. “Trade unionists must never de-prioritise the anti-fascist struggle... There is never a time for trade unionists to be silent, or lower their voices on this issue.”
On 12 May 2012, Lanning addressed about 500 demonstrators who had gathered outside 10 Downing Street to commemorate the anniversary of the Nakba. Lanning, who said he had just returned from Palestine, said that “every day in Palestine is Nakba Day. The Palestinians are being encircled, imprisoned, colonised, driven off their land.” He accused Israel of “arresting people with no charge, no trial and no justice” and said that “If this was happening anywhere else on this planet it would be on the front page of every newspaper and on the daily news night after night. But it is being ignored because it is happening to the Palestinians.”
Lanning addressed meetings held at the Labour Party conference in Manchester in October 2012 by PSC and Unite Against Fascism.
After the British government sought “to cut the amount of time civil servants can spend on union activity,” Lanning said in a letter to the Cabinet Office it was “unacceptable” that civil servants and their union representatives should be “left to learn of their employer's decision, which has personal implications for some of them, through national newspapers and statements at the Conservative party conference.” He described the policy shift as “a political attack on the democratic processes of trade unions” and warned that “this is going to fundamentally rupture industrial relations in the civil service....We will be asking Acas to intervene on this issue as well as challenging your decisions in the courts....The independence of the civil service from political pressure and interference in its role as an employer is a dangerous line to cross.'”
Lanning spoke at an anti-EDL event in Walthamstow in October 2012 that was organized by the groups We Are Waltham Forest and Unite Against Fascism and attended by more than 1,000 people. Lanning said: “The EDL wanted to come to Walthamstow to intimidate Muslim and other communities including trade unionists. They have been given a resounding no. Let's celebrate this victory together and united.”
Lanning insisted in a 2013 speech that “Israel is ALWAYS the aggressor” and that Israel had banned 180 life saving medicines from Gazan hospitals “because they might save lives.” In the same speech he announced a PSC conference on 13 April that would involve “an open dialogue with the people of Gaza and their leaders” – in other words, Hamas.
Lanning spoke at a March 2013 conference in London held by the Morning Star, the newspaper of the pro-Soviet Communist Party of Britain, “to discuss the crisis of political representation in parliament” and consider the possibility of forming a new working-class party.
The Morning Star reported on 14 April 2013 that Lanning had told a conference on the previous Saturday “that activists must urge the government to end Israel's ability to breach international law with 'impunity.” Lanning was quoted as saying that “The policy of governments including our own not to talk to the legitimate representatives of Palestinians is wrong and short sighted.”
Lanning resigned from his position with the PCS in May 2013.
Lanning met with senior BBC executives in June 2013 to discuss BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which Lanning felt was too Israel-friendly. The Israeli National News reported that the BBC had “come under fire” for having held “consultations” with Lanning, who was identified as “a senior member of...an anti-Israel group which openly supports Hamas, Hezbullah and other extremist organisations.”
In 2013, Lanning was elected a vice chair of Unite Against Fascism (UAF). He was a speaker at UAF's national conference in March 2013. Andrew Gilligan, in a June 2013 article in the Telegraph, noted Lanning's position with Unite Against Fascism, and recounted that UAF members had climbed on London's main war memorial, “squashing...flowers that mourners had placed there, then trying to remove half of them altogether and 'jeering' other visitors as they paid their respects.”
Refusal of entry to Israel
In March 2017, days after the Knesset passed Amendment No. 27 to the Entry Into Israel Law, which allowed known supporters of the BDS movement to be banned from entering Israel, Lanning became the first British national to be refused entry to Israel under this law. After landing at Ben Gurion Airport, Lanning was detained and refused entry. He claimed he was interrogated for eight hours. He was subsequently put on a flight back to the UK and informed that he would need to apply for permission to enter Israel in the future.
Lanning and Richard Norton-Taylor wrote a 1992 book, A Conflict of Loyalties: GCHQ 1984-1991, about 14 employees of the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) who refused to obey a new directive requiring that they resign from their unions. In a review for The Guardian, Lord Wedderburn called it “a valuable source for those who seek to understand the place of the GCHQ victimisations in the general and continuing assault upon trade union rights in Britain.”
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