The Socialist 16 April 2008 |
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Unison witch-hunt: Defend 'the four'
Defend union democracy
Onay Kasab, photo Paul Mattsson
Greenwich Unison branch secretary Onay Kasab (Kas) is one of four Unison officers currently facing a disciplinary hearing as part of a witch hunt being carried out by the union bureaucracy.
In an outrageous move, the four are accused of giving racist offence, for using the image of the 'three wise monkeys' on a leaflet. Yet all four have a long history of fighting racism and prejudice.
Onay Kasab, back in 1988, led the Hither Green dispute, a campaign which included strike action and which most importantly led to a victory for anti-racism and anti-fascism.
The dispute began when bosses at Hither Green social security offices decided to employ Malcolm Skeggs, who was at the time a leading member of the far-right British National Party and in charge of the party book club.
He had already been dismissed by Lewisham council after he was caught photocopying fascist material at work.
Despite this background, local civil service bosses thought it appropriate to offer him a job working amongst a mixed workforce and with full access to the names and addresses of black benefit claimants.
Once his identity became known, Onay Kasab, the local representative of what was then the CPSA union and now PCS, issued an ultimatum from the workforce to the employers. Once Skeggs had finished his training, the day he was put amongst the workforce, there would be an immediate walkout.
In the meantime, a very public campaign was organised by the workers, winning huge amounts of support. When the bosses chose to ignore the ultimatum, the strike threat was carried out without delay.
CPSA members walked out and stayed out at Hither Green for 13 weeks. CPSA members from around the country supported the strikers with letters of support and collections for the hardship fund. But support also flooded in from other trade unions, community organisations and individuals.
Menacingly, Onay Kasab received a small amount of fascist-style hate mail, some with the most disgusting racist images as well as death threats and threats of violence.
The strike leaders ensured that the office was picketed morning and evening and in particular the strikers made sure that Malcolm Skeggs got a reception.
It was not long before local managers started driving him in and out of the car park, to 'protect' him from the pickets.
One morning he missed his lift and the pickets found this leading member of the 'master race' cowering behind the dustbins because the office was not yet open!
The campaign was built up with the full involvement of the strikers, who ran the dispute. Regular strike meetings decided the tactics. When members of the south London CPSA stewards' executive did not agree with the strikers' strategy, they were invited to strike meetings where they could put their proposals, which were always voted on and voted down on each occasion.
The CPSA branch was led by a Militant (forerunner of The Socialist) supporter and Militant supporters were regulars on the picket line, offering advice and support.
Leading socialist figures from the CPSA, such as John Macreadie, gave valuable support and current PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka visited the picket line and campaigned for the dispute.
As the support grew, so did the level of action. A south London CPSA strike was followed by a London-wide stoppage.
In the meanwhile, the campaign dealt with every argument, including the idea that whatever his politics, the fascist had a right to free speech.
The strikers correctly pointed to the true nature of fascism, of the BNP and that Skeggs and his kind would claim free speech to deny free speech to others.
Finally, after 13 weeks of strike action, Skeggs was removed. He was 'transferred' to a civil service training unit, which specialised in making race awareness videos and finally resigned.
The strikers correctly hailed this as a tremendous victory. The campaign demanded: "We won't work with Nazis, we won't work with Skeggs" and this was achieved - a total victory!
The campaign won because the action was swift and uncompromising. It is true the strikers did not have to contend with today's anti-trade union laws but the support that was built up was so huge that the campaign was unstoppable.
Today's Unison leaders need to take note that when they threaten to discipline 'the four' they are threatening trade unionists who have a history of fighting and winning campaigns against racism.
Lobby the disciplinary hearing: Tuesday 22 April, 8.30am, Holiday Inn, Regents Park, Carburton Street, London W1 5EE.