Saturday, March 17, 2007

Support for a victimised activist

Nine years ago I wrote an article for Labour Left Briefing expressing concern about a case in which a leading leftwing activist in UNISON was under attack from his employer, who may have thought that they had the tacit support of some within the Union’s official structures. At that time the person in the frame was Glenn Kelly from Bromley who now sits on the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC).

Now it is health activist Yunus Bakhsh from Newcastle who faces action from his employer which could lead to his dismissal. I was one of seventeen members of UNISON’s NEC and Health Service Group Executive (SGE) who have supported the following statement;

We the undersigned, members of UNISON's NEC and Health SGE, are writing to call for the fullest possible support for Yunus Bakhsh, member of UNISON's Health Service Group Executive in the Northern Region, who faces possible dismissal at a hearing scheduled for 19 March.

We believe that disciplinary charges against Yunus have widely been seen as victimisation of a leading UNISON activist by a hostile employer.

We believe that it is vital for the strength and health of our Union that all activists are assured that we will receive the very best support and representation should we face hostile action from our employers.

We believe that UNISON should respond to the action against Yunus with the same vigour and determination as was shown, for example, in the defence of Nigel Flanagan and Paul Summers in the North West Region in 2005, which included giving positive support and encouragement to members to take industrial action.

This request was made with the support of the following members of the NEC and Health SGE;

Roger Bannister
Caroline Bedale
Bill Beeko
Paul Harper
Nick Holden
Helen Jenner
Glenn Kelly
Mark Ladbrooke
Diana Leach
Ann MacMillan Wood
John McDermott
Raph Parkinson
Karen Reissman
Jon Rogers
Jessie Russel
Jean Thorpe
Mike Tucker

Our request was sent to the General Secretary and President of UNISON, and the latter replied in a circular to all NEC members stating that;

“In view of the "round robin" sent by Jon Rogers on the Yunus Bakhsh issue let me re-assure you all that the facts set out in the e-mail are wrong. Indeed Yunus has praised the quality of the representation he has received and the whole matter is being dealt with fully in accordance with normal Unison processes and procedures in such cases. Let me remind you that it is the normal practice, in such cases, to leave the matter wholly confidential and that no discussion takes place whilst the issues involved remain unresolved.
I sincerely hope that this puts everyone's mind at rest on this issue, but should there be any cause for concern then of course it can by raised in the normal way at the next meeting of the NEC scheduled for 19th April 2007.”

I am in continuing correspondence with our President as a result of this reply, and acknowledge that since the original request was drafted the hearing due to take place on 19 March has been postponed. Otherwise however I am at a loss to see how it can be said that “all the facts set out in the e-mail are wrong.” Doubtless we can discuss this at the next UNISON NEC meeting as suggested.

In the mean time I am pleased to note that there is no opposition to the request made for the fullest support for a victimised activist in line with the best traditions of our Union. Bromley Council backed off from their attempt to attack Glenn Kelly in 1998 because they were clear that Glenn had the support of the Union, Yunus Bakhsh must and will receive the same support.

Whatever our disagreements as trade unionists (and I have profound political differences with both Glenn and Yunus) we close ranks when a union activist is attacked by their employer.

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