What we say
Demonstration outside Unison HQ against witchhunt of four unison members, photo Paul Mattsson
On 16 July, after two long years of tortuous investigations and hearings, Unison's kangaroo court declared four members of the Socialist Party guilty. This disgraceful charade will go down in trade union history as a day of shame.
The four Unison members, Brian Debus, Glenn Kelly, Onay Kasab and Suzanne Muna, were found 'guilty' on two charges of breaching union rules when they gave out a leafet at the 2007 Unison conference. The first charge asserts that their role in the production of the leaflet Whose Conference gave racist offence to members, showing disregard for the union's aims and objectives and was therefore in breach of rules. The second charge stated: "Your attack on the integrity of the members of the Standing Orders Committee was in breach of rules".
Despite the investigation accepting there was no racist intent in producing the leaflet, and despite leading anti-racist organisations and campaigners making it clear that the leaflet was not racist, the four have still been charged and found guilty of producing material that gave "racist offence" to one out of 3,000 delegates in attendance.
This is outrageous and an attempt to slur the reputations and future prospects of the four. It has provoked anger and outrage both within Unison and in the wider trade union movement.
The priority of the Unison leaders should be to defend the union's members against job losses, low pay, reduced hours and worse conditions which are being foisted on workers during the recession. However, they are instead narrowly focused on silencing any opposition to their leadership, especially from socialists with a track record of fighting for their members.
They are only interested in maintaining their hold on the union and propping up New Labour - opposition to which is growing in the union.
Originally, five Unison members were put under investigation at the 2007 Unison conference, for giving out the leaflet at the centre of the case. The leaflet asked branch delegates to return key motions to the conference agenda that the Standing Orders Committee had rejected. It drew delegates' attention to the fact that one third of the motions submitted had been rejected and this meant that many crucial issues could not be debated, including the election of union officials, New Labour's attacks on public services and organising industrial action.
Charges were subsequently withdrawn from one of the original five, the only one who is not a member of the Socialist Party, clearly revealing that this is an attack on Socialist Party members. For two whole years the four have been through an investigation and a series of hearings.
The fact that Glenn Kelly was reelected with a bigger majority than before to Unison's National Executive Council (NEC) this year and that Socialist Party members increased their representation on the NEC from three members to six, demonstrates the support for socialist ideas - especially the Socialist Party's call to break the union's link with Labour. In fact, at this year's Unison conference, general secretary Dave Prentis, playing to the anti-Labour mood, himself used a version of Glenn's famous phrase: 'Why should we feed the hand that bites us'!
This was empty rhetoric from Prentis who, despite getting a standing ovation for suggesting holding back some money from New Labour, has no desire to pull away from that pro-big business party. However, Prentis subsequently warned the Unison Labour link conference that the Labour Party has to change to keep union support and drew attention to the number of Socialist Party members who have just been elected to the NEC.
Reflecting the views of Unison's members, the right-winger Annette Mansell-Green, who chaired the disciplinary panel hearing the cases of the four charged members, lost her NEC seat in this year's Unison elections.
Disgracefully, the witch-hunt panel refused to allow Suzanne Muna the opportunity to present her case as she could only attend the final hearings on the Friday and not the Thursday, due to work commitments.
Now, in yet another affront, the panel are making the four wait for up to 14 days to hear by letter what the penalties for being found guilty of these charges will be.
Witch-hunts are not new to the trade union movement. Unison has witch-hunted other left activists, and in the past, in desperate attempts to maintain their positions, union bureaucracies have expelled activists who challenge unpopular, ineffective leaderships.
This case is an attempt by Unison's present leaders to maintain their positions as they become more isolated from the mood of their membership. The need and struggle for an accountable, democratic, fighting union will intensify in a period where public sector workers fear for their jobs, conditions and pensions.
The fight to exonerate Brian, Glenn, Kas and Suzanne must now be stepped up. Already protest letters are flooding in that show Prentis and Co the support that exists for the four. This is not just about defending four good trade unionists and socialists but also is part of developing the fight to turn Unison into a fighting, democratic union which puts its members and not the bureaucrats first.
As one supporter said in an email to Dave Prentis: "I have just spent the weekend at Tolpuddle celebrating the actions of six selfless men who gave up everything to defend trade unionism. Unison supported the festival but those six men would be turning in their graves if they could see what crimes are being carried out in the name of our trade union today".
Send your protests now.