Unison Bureaucracy Unmasked

Unison Bureaucracy Unmasked: The Defend the Four Story

At Unison’s 2007 conference, the union’s standing orders committee ruled out of order a third of branch motions, including ones questioning union strategies and the union’s link with Labour. In protest, four union branches published a leaflet calling for some of the barred motions to be debated.

They used a cartoon of the ‘three wise monkeys’ proverb “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil”, to show the union wasn’t listening to its members. Full time officials incredibly and falsely claimed the leaflet was racist.

This claim was used to bar four Socialist Party members from office: Bromley branch secretary Glenn Kelly, Greenwich secretary Onay Kasab, Housing Corporation secretary Suzanne Muna and Hackney branch chair Brian Debus. The charges were eventually overturned in 2011, following extensive campaigning including lobbies and legal action.

Unison Bureaucracy Unmasked: The Defend the Four Story recounts the battle against this witch-hunt and the lessons from it. A South Wales Unison shop steward reviews the pamphlet.

The pamphlet made me angry, but full of admiration for the four involved. It made me determined to make Unison the fighting, democratic, member-led union that we, its members, deserve and need.

Coincidentally, I recently read an Observer article about immigrant workers, employed in London, who joined Unison to fight for the Living Wage.

Far from welcoming these workers, who showed how even the most-exploited could organise, take action and win, Unison officials prevented them putting forward candidates for union positions.

When they protested at Unison’s HQ, the police were called to disperse them! That behaviour would shock most Unison members. But it’s all too familiar to ‘the four’ and colleagues in their branches who experienced dawn raids on union branch offices.

The book lays bare the real reason for the trumped up charges against ‘the four’. Well-paid, unelected officials were determined to avoid any challenge to policies of accepting cuts to our members’ jobs, terms and conditions and to the services we provide.

In Unison, we’re not allowed to challenge our relationship with Labour. Our union has given £5.7 million to Labour since 2010, yet when hundreds of thousands of Unison members took strike action on 10 July, the best Ed Miliband could say was he didn’t condemn them.

‘Our government’?

It has also been Wales TUC’s official policy since 2010 to “not be seen to criticise our government”, the Labour government in Wales.

The Wales TUC and its affiliated health unions, with Unison leading the way, recently put out a public statement, which essentially says that anybody who criticises the NHS in Wales is acting in the Tories’ interests and demoralising staff. This would include attacking cuts to services and funding.

Being a workplace rep, when our members face attacks on jobs, terms and conditions is hard enough, without having your own union attacking your reputation and character. Worse still: the book gives evidence of union collaboration with employers in order to try to get activists sacked!

It is a tribute to the strength of character of the four and a reflection of the analysis and perspective that being a Socialist Party member provides that they kept acting for and in the interests of Unison members while facing all these attacks.

All Unison activists should read this book. Our union can be a decisive force in defeating cuts, Tory or Labour.

Let’s reclaim it for its members!

Unison Bureaucracy Unmasked

The Defend the Four Story

How four Socialist Party members defeated victimisation within their own union

Available for £5 (plus p&p) from www.leftbooks.co.uk

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