On 20th November trade unionists marched through Manchester in support of
Karen Reissman, who had been sacked from her job with Manchester Community
Mental Health Trust. Karen’s crime was that she was an effective trade
unionist, defending her work mates’ wages and the condition of the service
against the government-sponsored privateers of PFI. There was local enthusiasm
and the support of regional officials for her case but national UNISON speakers
and national publicity were conspicuous by their absence. Is Karen being hung
out to dry by the UNISON bureaucracy?
In the same month Michael Gavan was victimised by Newham New Labour Council.
His offense? He had been representing his union members, not the policy of the
Council. That’s precisely why the workers at Newham voted for him as their rep.
Again, not a dicky bird from UNISON.
Last August Tony Staunton was expelled from the Union. He was accused of
taking a computer. His local branch colleagues, who ought to know, said he’d
been given the computer to do union work. The bureaucracy stitched him up like
a kipper. They took just two minutes to kick him out of a union he’d actively
served for 23 years.
In Birmingham Faith Ryan, Andrea Savin and David Hughes were expelled from
the union last year. It seems UNISON was in cahoots with management, who tried
to sack Faith. The council backed off, leaving UNISON with egg on their face.
In Glasgow Roddy Slorach was also booted out of the union for leading a
successful social work strike. In the same City Pat Maughan and Iain Fergus
were dismissed, in effect for doing a job of work for their members. An
industrial tribunal found the sackings amounted to unfair dismissal. UNISON
Head Office has not been over-exerting itself in trying to get their jobs back.
In Sheffield eight activists faced a union disciplinary. The charges
included ‘offenses’ such as giving donations to the Hillingdon Hospital strike
fund. Even under the present anti-union laws these donations were
democratically agreed on and are an entirely legitimate and admirable use of
In Newcastle, Yunus Bakhsh was accused of harassment within the local UNISON
branch. Mysteriously this accusation leaked out to management. Yunus was
suspended as a health worker in 2006 and suspended from the union last year, a
double whammy. Yunus, who is a leading SWP member has been a thorn in the side
of the bureaucracy for many years. Coincidence?
All these cases have common features. For the most part management is New
Labour or health service managers noted for their New Labour Vocabulary
accountancy mentality and Stalinist methods. UNISON tops say they are committed
to defend their members’ wages and conditions against their employers be it the
local council or health authority. Instead UNISON are cuddling up to New Labour
in the localities. If anyone stirs up trouble, as they see it, the bureaucracy
slings them out on their ear. They seem to have no compunction in collaborating
with management to victimise union activists, as the Yunus case shows.
In the past it’s been well known in Newham that the Mayor has been pulled
into line by the national Labour Party when he’s gone over the top in respect
of the union branch. But a line seems to have been crossed. No doubt the issues
underlying the Newham case have been building up for years, but we would argue
that it’s a symptom of a wider malaise in the public sector.
There are huge contradictions building up over pay, equal pay, PFI,
government cuts and privatisation. Many of the scars of the Thatcher years have
healed and the public sector unions are a lot less cowed than they were in the
late 80’s and early 90’s. it’s no surprise that managers are moving to take on
During the 1990’s there was a deliberately orchestrated witch hunt in side
UNISON, particularly against the SWP. The reasons behind this are fairly
transparent. The UNISON leadership have developed a very cosy relationship with
the Labour Leaders. The line has been consistently don’t rock the boat; hold
the line, unity above all. But as we’ve explained before this position
inevitably sells the members short and inevitably breaks down, when the workers
move into struggle.
What we don’t want and can’t condone is a policy of isolating and attacking
key UNISON militants. The very people who will lead the fight to defend
member’s interests and oppose the attacks on member’s interests and the
services they deliver.
All UNISON members need to ask some hard questions of
the full-time apparatus. If management can get rid of militants with the tacit
support of the Union, where does that leave me? Whose side is the union on?