The Socialist 28 June 2007
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Unison leadership launches a witch-hunt
AS UNISON conference began, delegates were stunned to hear the chair of the black members' group claim that a leaflet that had been given out that morning was "racist and offensive". The chair of the standing orders committee also claimed a few minutes later that he: "felt insulted by the printed material".
The president of the conference joined in by saying that the branches who had produced the leaflet were now being investigated and implied that they were guilty!
Understandably many of the delegates naturally sympathetic to black UNISON members were ready to believe that something was wrong.
But the truth was different. The leaflet, produced by four London branches, was pointing out that over 50 resolutions had been ruled out of order by the standing orders committee. These resolutions included ones that called for regular election of officials, criticised the lack of control by union branches over industrial action ballots and other key democratic issues.
The four branches, Hackney, Greenwich, Bromley and the Housing Corporation, all have branch officers that are members of the Socialist Party. This was the main reason that the contrived hoo-ha was opened up by the union leadership.
The leaflet used a cartoon involving three monkeys with the accompanying proverb "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". Only those who have another agenda could see this as "racist" or "offensive". It was obviously a direct reference to the refusal by the standing orders committee to allow the resolutions onto the agenda and in fact was headed "let the branches decide".
When two of the branch officers concerned, Glenn Kelly from Bromley and Onay Kasab from Greenwich, tried to speak on the charges they were stopped by the chair.
This is without a doubt the beginning of what could be a major witch-hunt against the Socialist Party in the union and its influence, particularly on the union's national executive (NEC).
Those delegates who knew the truth were outraged, particularly those black delegates from the branches involved. At a 100-strong Socialist Party fringe meeting that night, Val, a delegate from the Housing Corporation branch who had helped give out the leaflets that morning said: "They will not be allowed to use the colour of my skin to hide behind their undemocratic attempts to control the conference or the delegates".
At a later meeting of the black members' group, Val stood up and attempted to tell the truth, including saying that she was one of the authors of the leaflet. But the chair of the meeting ordered her to sit down and switched off the microphone.
Two Socialist Party leaflets were produced about the witch-hunt. The first advertised the party meeting with Raph Parkinson, the NEC member representing black members on the platform, and an end-of-conference leaflet explaining the events in more detail and what would happen if the witch-hunt went ahead.
It pointed out the hypocrisy of the union leadership and the Socialist Party's record in fighting racism. It gave the right wing a warning that if they go down this path they will bring the union into disrepute. They will waste members' money and be ridiculed in the capitalist press.
The branches and individuals under threat will have to consider the use of the courts. It is an unfortunate fact of life in today's often bureaucratised unions that you can stand more chance of getting a fair hearing and a little natural justice in the courts than you do with the vicious right-wing characters in the leadership of some unions.
Witch-hunts against the left in UNISON are not unusual. But friends of the bureaucracy are treated differently when they "infringe the rules".
In fact whilst the conference was going on, an incident revealed these dual standards. The president was challenged by delegates from Northern Ireland when he referred to a "sea of orange cards". These were voting cards held up by delegates. He was allowed to apologise to conference and nobody said that he should be subject to a disciplinary investigation.
As we go to press no word has been heard from the leadership, though they have already started the process of the investigation. But any attack on the rights of the members and the branches will be met by a ferocious campaign of resistance. This will include raising the issue with the members throughout the union. It is their rights that are under attack.
The right wing will not stifle the opposition to their misrule and their crimes. They have failed on so many fronts - pensions, pay, agenda for change, single status and removing education staff from local government, so the bureaucracy is keen to clamp down on any opposition. But by going to the membership, this attack, like others where the Socialist Party has been attacked, will undoubtedly be repulsed.
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