On 2 February Kirklees council announced the dismissal from employment of the left branch secretary of Kirklees Unison and national union president, Paul Holmes. This decision followed a disciplinary process that has lasted longer than two years.
Holmes is still under investigation within Unison.
Unfortunately Holmes has as yet not given any public information on, or explanation of, the charges against him.
Understandably, given the Unison leadership’s right-wing history and its willingness in the past to collude with employers against left activists, many good trade unionists in and out of Unison have seen this as an attack on a left and have instinctively come out in support of him.
This mood has inevitably been strengthened by the outrageous attempts of the Unison right-wing officialdom to block the efforts being made by the new left-led national executive council (NEC) to improve union democracy since they were elected last summer.
The Socialist Party has held back from commenting on Holmes’ case publicly while the employer’s disciplinary was ongoing, despite completely unfounded attacks being made against us by some on the left.
However, the statement linked to below, which we are only publishing publicly now, was circulated internally to our party members in October 2021 in response to attempts to smear us being made by Socialist Appeal and others.
As the statement explains, we have a long and proud tradition of defending all left activists facing victimisation.
However, we also have a well-established record of defending the right of trade unionists to be heard when they feel they have suffered bullying.
This stance cannot be dropped simply because the person being accused is a prominent left.
While we are not aware of the details of the specific accusations against Holmes, we understand that they were made by 14 current and former Kirklees Unison reps and low-paid branch employed staff, most of whom are women.
They made their complaints in 2019, long before Holmes became Unison president, and even before he stood for Unison general secretary in 2020.
As we show, Paul Holmes supporters, now organised as the Time For Real Change group, were aware of these complaints in 2019, and yet chose to go ahead and put Holmes forward as their candidate for general secretary.
In our view it was a serious mistake to ignore complaints by left trade union activists, who said in their public statement on 2nd February that they had experienced “serious events which included threatening behaviour”, leading them to feel that that the “Kirklees Unison Branch office was no longer a safe place for women”.
Kirklees 14 – A Safe Space to Put our Case – see on Facebook
Their statement also makes clear that their complaints “were not politically motivated” and that they are “left-wing reps and activists with a proud fighting history, who have led strikes locally against Kirklees Labour council’s attacks on our members and we have fought for decades to transform Unison into a fighting union. We actually support the left winning more seats on the Unison NEC.”
They explain how they feel, correctly, that their complaints have been badly handled by the Unison leadership.
Both they and Paul Holmes are still waiting, after more than two years, for an outcome to the union investigation.
In our view the allegations should have been heard far earlier and should have been dealt with by the union, via an agreed independent panel, rather than being left in the hands of the employer.
Paul Holmes and his supporters on the NEC were wrong not to have been raising this – including the injustice being done to the complainants by the delay.
While Paul Holmes supporters are not responsible for the actions of the previous NEC, which had a right-wing majority, that was no longer the case when the left took a majority in June 2021.
However, the fact that Time for Real Change NEC members have now accepted the need for an investigation of Holmes’ alleged behaviour, and are convening a disciplinary panel, indicates that they recognise there is a case to answer.
This should now be done as quickly as possible, and should give an opportunity for the complainants and Paul Holmes to finally get to put their case as part of a democratic union process.