Fifteen unelected Unison trade union officials raided the Unison offices in Bromley and Greenwich in south London and the Tenant Services Authority (TSA) in central London in the early morning of Friday 5 March. In scenes reminiscent of Stalin's political police, the officials attempted to confiscate computer hard drives and other resources, including important documents relating to on-going personal cases of members.
These raids take place on the eve of the biggest public sector cuts ever seen. No matter which of the main parties wins the general election, we face "savage cuts" in public services. Members of Unison, the biggest public sector union, need a leadership that is democratic and fighting to defend jobs and services.
But, tied to the New Labour government, this Unison leadership is unable and unwilling to lead such a fightback. Instead they have turned on those who are prepared to fight. Four Socialist Party members and leading left activists in Unison, Glenn Kelly (Bromley), Suzanne Muna (TSA), Onay Kasab (Greenwich) and Brian Debus (Hackney) have all been banned from holding any office in the union for up to three years.
Up and down the country Unison members report their fear of supporting witch-hunted activists in case the net falls on them next. And like the guilty party in a murder mystery, the bodies pile up as the leadership become increasingly fearful of any expression of demo-cracy or militancy. Unison is being transformed into a tame union prepared to collude with the bosses. No member can feel safe.
The witch-hunt of the 'four' began in 2007 when they backed a leaflet criticising the undemocratic way the union's conference was run - when a third of the branch resolutions were ruled out by the conference standing orders committee. The claim that the four were being punished for causing racist offence in that leaflet has been shown to be the sham it always was. The attack on the four was only ever an attack on trade union militancy and democracy.
Socialists and trade unionists will not stand back and watch as the current Unison leadership hound socialists and activists, destroy democracy, and ruin the union's ability to fight to defend jobs and services. The four have called an urgent protest at Congress House in London, where Linda Perks, Unison London regional secretary, has her office.
Dave Prentis is standing for re-election as Unison general secretary, saying that Unison is a member-led union! Yet he has ignored nearly three years of letters, emails, phone calls and protests from members concerning the 'four' and, with the right-wing leadership, denies ballot requests from Unison branches trying to fight cuts.
One of the best ways to fight the witch-hunt now is to campaign for an accountable, fighting leadership in this general secretary election. That is why the four call for nominations for Roger Bannister, for a fighting left-wing general secretary of Unison.
In Greenwich, unelected Unison officials have acted with the collusion of the New Labour local authority employer, and have employed security guards to 'protect' the Unison offices from local union members.
In Tory Bromley, Unison officials tried to get the council to act against the elected local Unison leader.
Three unelected, paid officials had intended to seize branch files relating to ongoing negotiations and casework at the Tenant Services Authority. However, they found that all such information was stored electronically on remote employer 'virtual' networks and they were unable to gain access to it.
With the bullying, sneering approach only possible from unelected bureaucrats divorced from the membership, Unison officials tried to provoke and humiliate elected Unison officers who have fought for their members for years and built up some of the best-organised branches in London.
Members who witnessed what happened were shaking with fury. Unison members from around London have rung the four to express complete disbelief and anger.
The regional officials originally said they will run elections for new branch officers but, as has happened in other branches, they may try to run the branches themselves, which in other areas has led to moribund Unison branches. If they do hold elections, they clearly intend to demoralise and drive out existing reps and replace them with compliant supporters of the leading clique.
The four have conducted a determined and high profile campaign which has meant that it has taken nearly three years to get them banned from holding office. Mitigation hearings were held on the length of the bans but only concluded that their length should be reduced by between one and two years.
Temporarily, the current Unison leadership are gleeful in their victory. They have wanted to rid themselves of Socialist Party activists for years. But their gloating should not last long. This is not trade unionism. This is a rotten bureaucracy which has hijacked the union for its own political purposes.
Public sector cuts are already mounting. But in the next few years, councils up and down the country will be making tens of millions of pounds of cuts; health trusts will be cutting billions; further education will be slashed and higher education could have a third of its funding reduced. Inevitably workers and communities will resist.
Workers will look to trade unions for a lead, but the current leaderships of right-wing led unions like Unison will be found seriously wanting. Members will act to sweep them aside and replace them with real leaders - or they will leave in droves to join or form more militant unions.
Let as many Unison members as possible know what is happening.
Onay Kasab (Kaz), Greenwich Unison branch secretary, was told to "disappear sharpish" by Unison bureaucrat Dan Pappiett. That is just part of the shameful scene I witnessed last Friday at 7.50am as I shook with anger. This was without doubt an attack on every one of the 3,500 members in Greenwich.
Six Unison 'political police officers' marched into the branch office, thinking Kaz would be alone. He wasn't. They did this with the aid of Greenwich council head of human resources Sean Rafferty, which tells a story in itself of collusion between management and the union at regional level.
It was the most disgraceful incident that I have witnessed in my entire working life. And, when members got home from work there was what can only be called an open insult waiting for them. A letter from the witch-hunter general herself, Linda Perks informed them how she was going to "improve" the branch that Kaz and the other branch officers have built over the last 13 years.
For the last three days I have hardly been off the phone trying to explain to outraged members how unelected officers from their own union can throw out the branch leadership elected by members. Tom, a worker on grounds maintenance said: "I didn't elect Linda Perks. I elected Kaz. As far as I'm concerned Kaz is still my branch secretary".
If we are to withstand the attacks on our jobs, pay and conditions after the general election it is vital that we reclaim our union from these self-serving bureaucrats. Our best working class fighters, Kaz, Glenn, Brian and Suzanne, must be reinstated to their rightful democratically-elected posts.