Link to this page: https://secure.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/522/3826
Stop witch-hunts in Unison - defend those attacked!
As The Socialist reported last week, the witch-hunt against the left in public-sector trade union Unison has reached a new level. Four of five union officers from four London branches of the union, all members of the Socialist Party (Glenn Kelly, Brian Debus, Onay Kasab and Suzanne Muna), who last year were investigated over a leaflet their Unison branches produced, are now to be charged under Unison's disciplinary rules.
The fifth, who is not a member of the Socialist Party, has been told he will have to go on a 'race awareness' course. Suzanne Muna is also under attack by her employer, the Housing Corporation, with disciplinary charges hanging over her head for daring to represent her members (see page 11).
The above four being charged by Unison are to face a union 'kangaroo court' (with charges brought by the NEC and to be heard by the NEC) as a result of a leaflet produced by the branches and given to delegates at the Unison 2007 conference. The leaflet protested against the decisions of the conference standing orders committee, that had ruled many resolutions 'out of order', without any explanation, including those from the four branches concerned.
The leaflet used a humorous cartoon of the well known Three Wise Monkeys, illustrating the Buddhist proverb 'see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil'.
This is a widely used piece of established political satire that has no racist connotation. Some union leaders at the conference, however, claimed it was racist, which made many people there scratch their heads and ask 'what's behind this attack?', especially when they saw black union members as well as white members handing out the leaflet.
Well now it is clear. Only the Socialist Party members are to be charged!
The crudity of this discrimination is blatantly obvious. The leadership's attack has nothing to do with taking the issue of racism seriously, but everything to do with attacking socialist branch officers.
The threat to these officers and attacks on a number of other left activists in Unison, have wider connotations. They are an attempt to silence opposition that will be aimed at activists in general.
At the national executive committee (NEC) meeting on 13 February, general secretary Dave Prentis claimed that the leadership had learned the lessons of last year's local government pay campaign. But the lefts that spoke out against their disastrous tactics were treated with scorn and abuse.
The right-wing dominated NEC allows the bureaucratic machine to ride roughshod over members. They prefer to carry out their attacks behind closed doors away from the eyes of the members, who would be shocked by the undemocratic methods being used by the NEC and full time officials.
The attack over the leaflet is being orchestrated from an office in Unison HQ in London, that sent a letter to all five accused members, signed by the Orwellian sounding 'Head of Democratic Services'. It declares that anyone who is under notice of discipline cannot discuss their case with anyone else, including "other branch officers". Yet some previous letters were copied and sent to other Unison officials of the leadership's choosing by the sender.
Even before the NEC had a chance to vote on approving the cases to go to a hearing, the union had already written to the four saying they were to face a hearing.
There have been many examples of the unfair nature of the disciplinary process within the union. One NEC member who gave evidence against left activists in Leeds, later admitted that they were wrong. This made no difference to the case or the appeal.
The record of the Unison leadership, par-ticularly under the New Labour government, has been one of retreat after retreat on pensions and pay, and of the chaos of the 'single status' deal. When Socialist Party members in the leadership of the Campaign for a Fighting and Democratic Unison (CFDU), exposed the contradictions of the 'single status' plans and warned of the consequences, the leadership vowed then to squash all opposition.
They unleashed the dogs of war by attacking the rights of members and activists who have different opinions to them. They introduced the infamous "Democracy Guidelines" which barred branches from organising together against the leadership. They then went on to take measures against supporters of the CFDU and gradually tighten the screws on organised opposition in the union. They have even sometimes appeared to be conspiring with the employers when they want to get rid of people from the union.
We are at a new stage in the development of Unison. The leadership is completely tied to the New Labour government, which in turn is preparing to take on the working class to an even greater extent as the economic crisis whirlwind develops. The Unison conservative trade union officialdom acts as a huge weight on the union against the interests of the membership. It is in danger of becoming incapable of representing members at all, in the teeth of the employers' offensive.
Letters of protest urgently need to be sent to Unison's leaders against the witch-hunts. The membership is against these attacks. The lefts Helen Jenner and Bernie Gallagher were both re-elected to the NEC after bans imposed on them from holding office expired.
A substantial movement is needed over pay, jobs and working conditions, involving the mass of the union membership. Attacks on activists by the union leaders are getting in the way of vitally needed opposition to the bosses' attacks, and must be ended.
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In The Socialist 27 February 2008:
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