Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Defend Union activists - whoever attacks them...

This is one of those posts where you do need to remember the disclaimer on this blog (and – for my readers at UNISON HQ – this is all being done on my home computer!!) I have blogged here a fair bit recently about the importance of defending trade union activists, such as Karen Reissman and Michael Gavan, who are under attack from the employers.

Sometimes we also have to defend trade union activists under attack from within our own movement.

At a meeting of the Lambeth UNISON Branch Committee this morning, activists were shocked to hear details of internal disciplinary action being threatened within UNISON against five London activists facing allegations of racism in connection with a leaflet critical of the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) at last year’s UNISON Conference.

The leaflet used the graphic of “three wise monkeys” (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) to illustrate reasoned criticism of the enthusiasm with which the SOC was ruling out of order contentious or controversial motions for debate at the Conference. Some delegates felt that the use of this graphic was racist.

This is the sort of dispute that can all too easily crop up at a trade union Conference – and that is where it should have been resolved. If delegates were offended then the branches concerned could have been asked to apologise since it was clear that they never intended to offend.

Instead the Union has launched into a formal disciplinary investigation – and the possibility of disciplinary action against the activists. The five officers, under investigation are Glenn Kelly NEC member and Bromley branch secretary, Onay Kasab, Greenwich Branch secretary, Brian Debus and Matthew Waterfall, Hackney branch chair and secretary respectively and Suzanne Muna, housing corporation branch secretary.

One thing these five have in common is that they – and their branches – are leftwing critics of the Union leadership. To take formal disciplinary action over this matter would be so grossly disproportionate that it would appear to be politically motivated. I am afraid that this is not the only example of over the top disciplinary action against left wing activists within the Union. (You might almost think that elements of the Union leadership lack the confidence that they can win an argument with the left in front of the membership and are resorting to administrative measures to silence critics!)

UNISON activists need to make very clear that any such unwarranted and unjustified political attack would lead to a strong, united and wide ranging response. UNISON needs to concentrate upon defending our members interests – not on witch hunting socialists. Further details are online here.


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Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree with you more, Jon.

DM Andy said...

Jon, I do agree that UNISON does need to concentrate on the issues facing our members but that doesn't mean that the five should have a free pass.

The petition says that the leaflet "can in no way be construed as racist or offensive." I'm not a right-wing sockpuppet, but it's clear how it's been seen as racist and offensive. My feeling is that we would have no legitimate complaint against racism affecting our members if we let this go without some kind of action.

The part of the motion passed by your branch that I agree with is that the investigation should end. Why does it take our union more than six months to "investigate" something where all the facts were known on Day 1? This issue should have been resolved long before now.

The rulebook allows the General Secretary to delegate disciplinary proceedings to anyone else. If I were Dave Prentis, I would delegate this immediately to the National Black Members Committee, for them to decide what action should be taken, if any.

I do agree with you about the need for a fair and transparent disciplinary procedure. Right now the NEC can be prosecutor, judge and jury and that's got to change. How do you feel about a serious look at a new Rule I, aiming for National Delegate Conference 2009?

bronstein said...

As one of the accused i feel i must comment on "DM" post re this issue.

Given the record of the individuals and branches involved in fighting racism, to compare us with the Ron Aktinson is wholly unacceptable and does nothing to further this debate. Ron Atkinson made openly blatant racist remarks exposing his prejudices, no matter what your interpretation of the leaflet the two are not comparable.

The accusation from DM, is that by using the asian proverb of the three wise monkeys it could legitimately be taken to be directly infering to one member of the SOC out of 15, who is black and that it was legitmate for him to infer that we were out to depict as a monkey, I totally refute this.

The leaflet (see stop the witch hunt.com to judge for yourself) in no way attempts to target any individual of the SOC whats so ever, in particular there is no mention of the the chair.

The SOC's are made up of approx 16 lay activists and officers the overwhelming majority are white.

The leaflet was distributed by black and white delegates to the local government confernce challenging that standing orders committees as well. The chair of that body is white!

It was never handed out to the National delegate conference where clytus is chair. The complaint was lodged on the Monday before confernce even started.

In those circumstances Why would you consciously select one particualr member of one of the two committees out of 30 plus people and argue that it was targetting that individual. Let us not forget the cartoon has three chracters not one.

If it is aruged that the use of the proverb is in and of itself racist or could be conceieved as such why then has the union itslef used it on a number of occasions in offical material and why for instance is the current unison anti racist camapign being run with the backing of the natioanl black members committee using the slogan "see racism hear racism, report racism" (what is this if it is not a direct play on the same well known proverb?).

Dm goes on to suggest, that even If the leaflet was misconstrued and offence was taken should we have not apologised for any unintentional offence caused if we had and they were still pursuing us then maybe we could say it was a witch hunt.

The simply answer to this is.. We did offer an apology for any unintentional offence caused!!

The first we knew of the concern was when it was raised from the confernce floor on the tuesday, we were denied the right to respond and speak on it at confernce by the president.

Despite the differntial treatment to us we still wrote a letter to the SOC and to the National black members committee outling our position and apologising if any unintentional offence had been caused. Todate we have not had any responce from these.

At confernce others were allowed to do this and it was accepted, why were we treated differntly if it was not politically motivated? Does DM now accept therefore it is a witch hunt.

Glenn kelly

DM Andy said...

Sorry, had a bit of a brainfart, didn't mean the motion passed by your branch. I meant the motion discussed by your branch.

Anonymous said...

Several comments made here about no apology being offered, and this is quite incorrect.

I saw one of "the five" - sorry to use such a term, as it makes people sound like terrorists - speaking to Kevan Nelson in the conference hall, and am reliably informed he was seeking the opportunity to offer an apology.

For those of you there, you'll be aware that the President (no disrespect to him!) brassed off a whole section of the Northern Ireland Region with his reference to the "lovely sea of orange" in the hall when the voting cards were displayed. He subsequently offered an apology - with the privilige of free access to the mike ann no reference to rostrum control. For those of you who missed it, attempts by "the five" (who I now feel I am making sound like fugtiives - and I may be closer to the truth than I like) to speak from the floor were summarily thwarted.

Now how was that fair??

Anonymous said...

you mention the action aganst "socialist" activists as our NEC in unison only takes on the ultra left
what about the BNP and the right wingers who fail to add up their expenses correctly.

or do you have selective memory