Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Unison stops digging at last

I'M often critical of the Socialist Party these days, but today I want to offer congratulations, in particular to four of its members who are claiming victory in a case against their union, Unison.

If it seems regrettable that a trade union should be in court, and losing, it is something for which the Unison leadership and full-time officialdom have only themselves to blame. It started when the union banned the four Socialist Party members, all elected branch secretaries, and one, Glenn Kelly an NEC member, from holding office. Originally five members of the union were in the frame, but the union settled for the four who just happened to be Socialist Party members.

It  was not the only time that Unison had moved against left-wingers, but this case was particularly nasty.  The core charge against them was that of attacking “the integrity of the members of the Standing Orders Committee” for the removal of key motions from the union's conference agenda. The motions dealt among other things with union democracy, and Unison's funding of the Labour Party.

But this charge was "sexed up" with an accusation of racism, against four members who actively opposed racism. The accusation of giving “racist offence to members” referred solely to the use of a cartoon of the three wise monkeys, on their leaflet criticising the committee for not listening. It arose from a member of the committee who claimed to feel insulted.  The four strenuously denied any racial connotations to the cartoon, and apologised to anyone who felt insulted, but to no avail.

To an outsider like myself Unison's determination to pursue these four seemed in striking contrast with its failure to defend a member in the North East, Yunus Bakhsh, who was vilified and witch hunted by some very real and vicious racists.

 The four fought not only for their right to hold office, but against the "race" calumny, which if left unchallenged could prejudice their future employment prospects in the public sector. An investigation concluded there was no racism charge to answer, and an Employment Tribunal found that the four had been unfairly dismissed from their positions.

Not satisfied, Unison appealed. Earlier this year, an Employment Appeal Tribunal confirmed the first verdict. The union persisted, claiming its rights were being attacked, and sought the right to claim costs - in effect attempting to deter the four from continuing in court due to lack of funds. Lord Justice Elias called this "shabby", going on to say:

The judge went on to say: ‘Imagine if it was an employer trying to do it to a union, one would be shocked’. In another attack he said: ‘What do you want, do you want no opposition at the appeal, is that it? Or is this just a grudge match?’

Had the union succeeded, it might have increased the precedents for Tory measures to make it more daunting for workers to bring wrongful dismissal cases against employers. 

Now, to bring us up to date, here is Glen Kelly, commenting today on Facebook:

"The white flag of surrender is currently flying cover UNISON HQ. For five and half years they have sought to justify and defend the witch hunt against the four socialist party members. They have spent over £100,000, have been prepared to lose thousands of defecting members and many good activists. Despite losing in two courts they then were still willing to spend another £100,000 in taking the case to the Court of Appeal on the Owellinan defence that the lower courts had breached the unions human rights in not being allowed to ban the 4.

"The case was due to be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in December, however today the union did a complete u turn and caved in and has written to the court to withdraw their appeal. In doing so the union has now accepted the previous courts decision that they have acted illegally in banning the four. A hearing will now be called to determine the compensation that the union will have to pay.
The four have now set legal history in defending the rights of union members from being attacked by union bureaucracies seeking to silence it members.

"This is a victory for the Socialist Party and the four who have refused to be bullied and intimated and have ran a determined five year campaign exposing the actions of the union. The Socialist Party would also like to put on record its thanks to the lawyers who gave their support and time for free in particular Nick De Marco who showed that not all lawyers are in it just for the money".

Like I say, I am not a Socialist Party member, and nor are they the only left-wingers in Unison. As a matter of fact one of the four is now working for my own union. But as the union representing large numbers of local council and health service workers, Unison is, or should be, in the frontline of the fight for jobs , pensions and services, and many members will be hoping that the decision to drop the legal fight against the four signals a fresh resolve to put the union's strength and resources where they belong.

So will those of us in other unions and on trades councils where, with honourable exceptions, this public service union's internal preoccupation has appeared to leave a gap in our front line. Let us look forward to that white flag being replaced with the Red Flag of battle.   

 Lawyer Dave Renton on tribunal case:

Appeal Tribunal report:

Earlier report by Glen Kelly:

Yunus Bakhsh wins case:

What  Unison said about Yunus Bahsh:

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