|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Defending union democracy
Earlier this year, four Unison activists, all Socialist Party members, were banned from office for up to three years. Their crime? Producing a leaflet for the union’s 2007 conference calling for greater democracy within the union – and for having a long and proud history of fighting for union members. An Employment Tribunal, which ruled earlier this year, effectively backed the witch-hunt. LYNN WALSH examines the judgment – and its maze of contradictions.
THE CASE OF the Unison Four is now well-known throughout the trade union movement. Their ‘crime’ was issuing a leaflet, supported by their branches, criticising the union’s Standing Orders Committee (SOC) for excluding over 50 vital branch resolutions – a third of all motions – from discussion at the 2007 Unison conference. The resolutions concerned issues of union democracy: the election of Unison officials, the right of branches to initiate strike ballots, and Unison’s affiliation to the Labour Party.
To divert this challenge to the leadership, the Four were accused of racism and disrespect to the SOC. Disciplinary proceedings were started, and after three years of tortuous, money-wasting investigations and hearings – when everyone’s focus should have been on fighting public-sector cuts – the Four were suspended from office for between two and three years.
The accusation of racism was especially scandalous given the Four’s outstanding record in fighting racism. There was no way that Unison’s leadership could say the wording of the leaflet was racist. Instead, the leadership seized on the cartoon, which used the well-known image of the ‘three wise monkeys’ who ‘see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil’, to humorously satirise the SOC’s refusal to listen to the views of branches whose resolutions they rejected.
The monkey caricatures were not used in a racist manner. Even the leadership’s own investigation reported: "we are satisfied that there was no racial intention in the use of the cartoon". Yet the Four were still charged with producing a leaflet that "gave racist offence" and were convicted and banned from office by the leadership’s kangaroo court.
The leadership claimed that some black members were offended. Many black Unison activists, however, feel strongly that the allegation of racism has been used as a pretext, a political weapon to discredit rank-and-file activists who are critical of the leadership. Black delegates were involved in the four branches’ decision to produce the leaflet, as well as handing it out at the conference.
At a Defend the Four meeting at Unison conference, one black delegate said that "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". Another said: "The leadership’s attack has nothing to do with taking the issue of racism seriously, but everything to do with attacking branch officers who all have a track record of challenging the leadership, and of fighting racism". These comments sum up the views of many black Unison activists.
The employment tribunal case
AS ONE LINE of defence, the Four took an action under the 2003 Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations which outlaw discrimination and harassment on the basis of religion or philosophical belief. The Four’s case was that, through protracted, unjustified disciplinary proceedings, they were discriminated against and harassed by the leadership as well-known Socialist Party members and because of their Marxist-Trotskyist beliefs.
The Employment Tribunal (ET) hearings were revealing, bringing to light the full extent of the Unison leadership’s manoeuvres. For instance, Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, replying to a questionnaire from the Four, wrote that neither he nor other officials were aware of the political beliefs and/or political party membership of those involved in producing the leaflet. The judge found that Prentis and other officials did, in fact, know: "Answers given by Mr Prentis in the questionnaire... were untrue". Pre-hearing discovery also revealed a drive by Unison leaders to get regional officials to "deal with the Trots".
Ultimately, however, the tribunal (presided over by employment judge Mr N Weiniger, sitting with two lay members, Mrs RA Hunter and Miss SK Sootarsing) rejected the Four’s claims on several grounds. Brushing aside or ignoring clear evidence, Weiniger ruled that there was no discrimination and harassment against the Four. He also ruled out some of their claims on procedural grounds. (EAT judgement, 28 January 2010: Kelly and others v Unison)
But the outrageous core of the judgment is that Marxist-Trotskyist beliefs, even if they qualify as ‘philosophical beliefs’ under the regulations, are "repugnant" and "unworthy of respect in a democratic society" – and therefore are not protected from discrimination and harassment by the 2003 regulations. In fact, Weiniger puts Marxism and Trotskyism in the same category as racism and homophobia. This, in effect, is a declaration of an open season for witch-hunting Trotskyists and other left-wingers in Unison and other unions. Moreover, it is quite clear from his judgment that Weiniger does this from a position of open ideological support for free-market capitalism and opposition to any philosophical trend that seeks to change the existing order of society.
Weiniger, however, ignores the fact that the four were elected to their branch positions, and to the National Executive Council (NEC) in the case of Glenn Kelly. Faced with the witch-hunt launched by the leadership, the Four received the overwhelming backing of their fellow shop stewards and branch members. Far from finding their ideas "repugnant", a growing number of rank-and-file Unison members are supporting the ideas and policies advocated by the Socialist Party as the best way of fighting for union democracy and against the devastating tide of cuts now facing the public sector. This was reflected in the recent general secretary elections, when Roger Bannister, a well-known Socialist Party member, received 42,651 votes (19.74%).
Trade union activists expect class bias in courts and ETs. But rarely has a tribunal delivered such a blatantly biased judgment based on class interest and capitalist ideology. By relying on the term "repugnant" to exclude Trotskyist ideas from protection against discrimination and harassment, Weiniger has substituted his own prejudice for legal reasoning based on the existing regulations and case law. It is clear from this judgment that, according to Weiniger, in order to be "worthy of respect in a democratic society", a philosophical belief has to conform to the free-market, capitalist ideology of present society. Ideas that seek a fundamental change of the structure of society are beyond the pale. In fact, the judgment even approves the harassment of those advocating "extreme" ideas (as defined by ET judge Weiniger).
Trade union rights
ONE REASON, ACCORDING to Weiniger, that the Four’s views are not "worthy of respect" is that they are prepared to break the law – we would say, unjust laws in defence of democratic rights – and, in particular, that they are willing "to engage in illegal strikes". If their ideas allow for breach of the law, he reasoned, they do not deserve any protection under anti-discrimination laws. This legalistic approach, however, was recently contradicted by a much more senior judge. In an appeal case judgment – R v Jones (Margaret) (2006), 1 AC 136 – Lord Hoffman, one of the Law Lords, stated: "Civil disobedience on conscientious grounds has a long and honourable history in this country. People who break the law to affirm their belief in the injustice of a law or government are sometimes vindicated by history. The suffragettes are an example which comes immediately to mind. It is the mark of a civilised community that it can accommodate protests and demonstrations of this kind".
Not according to Weiniger. Anyone who supports illegal strikes is beyond the pale. In Britain we have democracy, he says; it is nothing like the situation in the southern states of the United States before the civil rights movement, or in South Africa under apartheid. Yet, in the last few years, in Britain thousands of workers have taken part in illegal strikes: from prison officers to engineering construction workers at oil refineries and power stations, to mention the most prominent. As a result of the draconian curtailment of trade union rights, especially the right to take effective strike action, workers have increasingly been forced to take direct action in defiance of legal restrictions.
Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s used the power of the state to launch a massive assault on trade union rights. The defeat of the miners in 1984 – and other sections such as the printers – paved the way for a battery of anti-trade union legislation. These laws severely restricted the right to strike, the ultimate guarantor of all trade union rights, and allowed unprecedented state intervention in internal union organisation. Apart from minor modifications, the Tory laws were left intact by the New Labour government in office from 1997 to 2010. In the recent BA dispute, for instance, judges, at the behest of the bosses, forced the union to postpone action because of minor irregularities in the balloting – despite overwhelming support for strike action.
The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, by no means a very radical body, concluded that, by the end of the 1990s, Britain had the worst record on organised labour of any EU country. The International Labour Organisation Committee of Experts and the Council of Europe Social Rights Committee have repeatedly criticised intervention by the government and the courts in the internal affairs of unions. Britain’s anti-trade union laws have also been criticised by the United Nations Commission on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The British parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has stated that UK trade union law does not allow for the range of rights required by the European Convention on Human Rights.
The right to strike is the backbone of collective action to defend workers’ interests. If ‘democracy’ is the issue, a Joseph Rowntree survey in 2000 showed that 86% supported the right of workers to strike, while the New Labour government adamantly refused to restore the right to effective strike action, despite requests from union leaders.
Moreover, the right to take effective strike action is not merely of sectional interest to particular groups of workers (as government ministers and judges frequently assert). Historically, strong trade union organisations, guaranteed by the capacity to take effective collective action, have, through representing the interests of the working class, buttressed wider democratic, social and economic rights. Conversely, the weakening of the unions since Thatcher and the drastic erosion of legal rights has allowed a much broader assault on democratic rights in general.
Some may point to the proliferation of ‘human rights’ since the 1990s through EU and British legislation. But as useful as they may be to those who are able to pursue their rights through the courts, their effect is more than outweighed by the erosion of democratic rights through the strengthening of state powers. For instance, the threat of terrorism has been used to extend powers of surveillance and curtail legal rights of suspects or defendants in the court system. Above all, economic ‘rights’ – in reality, the gains won by working-class struggle and pressure – in relation to jobs, pay levels, pensions, education, health and welfare services, have been steadily undermined and now face an all-out assault from the Con-Dem coalition government.
ANOTHER REASON FOR Trotskyist views not being worthy of protection, according to Employment Judge Weiniger, is that they allow for "the deprivation of home and property from the individual". He took exception to a comment made during the ET that it is not acceptable for someone to own three houses when many people do not have a decent home. He clearly favours the accumulation of wealth through acquiring property. Yet a recent opinion survey, commissioned by the Prince’s Trust, of unemployed young people – currently one in five, nearly a million – said they believed they would never be able to buy their own home.
The judge asserts that a socialist state would be authoritarian and would inflexibly allocate necessities like housing without reference to the needs of individuals. In Stalinist states, like the former Soviet Union, housing was allocated by the bureaucracy on an arbitrary basis, without regard for the needs of workers and their families. But that is not at all what Trotskyists, who have always been distinguished by opposition to Stalinism, envisage in a socialist society. Socialist democracy, with election of all political leaders and state officials, together with management of the economy by democratically elected boards, would ensure the allocation of housing met the particular needs of all families and individuals.
The essence of the law for this judge is that it should guarantee "freedom of choice and of procuring reward for endeavour" for the individual. Trotskyists are not opposed to "reward for endeavour". We do not advocate a crude levelling. But we are opposed to an economic system that produces gross inequalities of wealth and income.
Blair, whose New Labour government promoted free-market policies and presided over a grotesque growth of inequality, bought his third house, ‘a small stately home’, in Buckinghamshire for £5.75 million. This was in addition to his two London houses in Connaught Square, for which he paid £4.45 million. Is this situation "worthy of respect in a democratic society"?
A recent government-commissioned survey revealed that the richest 10% of the population are more than 100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10%. "The top 10%, led by higher professionals, had amassed wealth of £2.2 million, including property and pension assets, by the time they drew close to retirement (age 55-64), while the bottom 10% of households, led by routine manual workers, had amassed less than £8,000". (The Guardian, 27 January 2010) Does this square with any idea of social justice?
Capitalism is based on the exploitation of the working class. Wealth is more and more concentrated into the hands of the ruling class and its associates. ET judge Weiniger’s approach is based on defence of ‘individual rights’ abstracted from real society. In practice, this means the right to accumulate property and income, regardless of its effect on wider society or the majority of the population.
IN HIS JUDGMENT, Weiniger asserts that the kind of society desired by Trotskyists would be an authoritarian state that would expropriate the property of individuals and impose rigid conditions on society. This assertion was embodied in the judgment despite the fact that there was no examination of this issue during the course of the tribunal. Weiniger has arbitrarily decided that the kind of state envisaged by Trotskyists would be a Stalinist-type state, totalitarian and lacking democracy. According to ET judge Weiniger, the views of the Four, if implemented, would "deprive [the] individual of his or her rights and freedoms by the imposition of government practicing such extreme or repugnant views".
What distinguishes Trotskyism as a political trend is its implacable opposition towards Stalinism, the bureaucratic, totalitarian deformation of a state based on the ideas of Karl Marx. When Leon Trotsky participated in the Soviet government after the 1917 revolution, it was based on democratic workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ soviets (councils). Its democratic character at that time did not prevent the US and European powers, including Britain, sending armies of intervention to try to destroy the new Soviet state and restore the tsarist autocracy. However, from 1923, Trotsky led an opposition to the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet state, and in particular the policies and totalitarian methods of Stalin.
The Left Opposition led by Trotsky stood for the democratisation of the state with the election of all representatives and officials, subject to the right of recall and limitations on their salaries. He also stood for workers’ control and management in industry, and opposed the ruthless top-down economic methods of Stalin’s regime. In response, tens of thousands of Left Opposition supporters were executed or died in labour camps. Trotsky himself was assassinated by Stalin’s agent.
According to ET judge Weiniger, however, "the fundamental essence of revolution is undemocratic, as it supposes the change of government by means outside the constitutionally structured democratic process". But, as Trotsky explained many times, revolutions are not brought about by small groups of conspirators, or just by political parties alone. We are against undemocratic coups d’état. Revolutions arise from a fundamental crisis in society and a breakdown of the established structures of government.
In an advanced capitalist country like Britain, a successful socialist transformation could only be carried through on the basis of the overwhelming mass support of the population. Trotskyists advocate socialist democracy, not totalitarian rule. This would mean the democratic election of a workers’ government, together with the election of all state officials, subject to the right of recall, and limitations on salaries.
Trotskyists believe that a socialist planned economy should be managed by democratically elected planning bodies, including representatives of consumers and society at large. We advocate democratic workers’ control and management of industry. We reject the repressive methods of Stalinism, and support the freedom of all political parties, apart from fascists.
Protecting democratic rights?
IN HIS DEFENCE of ‘accepted mores’ of democratic society, Weiniger and his two lay panellists make no attempt to examine the ideas they stigmatise as "extreme", "repugnant", and "unworthy of protection" against discrimination and harassment.
At one point, the judgment vaguely comments: "There are and have been states whose political structures are based on various principles derived from Marx or Trotsky". Which states? This does not suggest much understanding of Marx or Trotsky’s ideas. Trotskyism, for instance, regarded the former Stalinist states of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and China as grotesque caricatures of Marx’s principles. Their planned economies were not capitalist, but they were ruled by dictatorships based on a privileged ruling caste – anathema to both Marx and Trotsky. And what states are there based on principles derived from Trotsky?
But for ET judge Weiniger, any political philosophy that aims to change society is taboo as far as anti-discrimination legislation is concerned. There are long sections in the judgment of tortuous legal logic-chopping in which he strives to distinguish the case of the Four from the Nicholson case. Tim Nicholson, an executive in a big property company, claimed that he was sacked on account of his views on the environment. His former bosses contested his right to take this to an ET under the 2003 Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations. In an appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), Mr Justice Burton ruled that Nicholson’s belief in man-made climate change could in principle be considered a philosophical belief, and Nicholson could take his case for unfair dismissal to the tribunal. (In the event, Nicholson reached an out-of-court settlement with his former employer in April 2010.) However, the Burton judgment was a landmark ruling, and EAT judgments set precedents for tribunals. Because of this Weiniger goes to extraordinary lengths to distinguish the Nicholson case from the case of the Four. Nicholson’s case was a one-off, asserts Weiniger, and Mr Justice Burton’s findings do not apply.
From his deliberations, Weiniger produces a new principle, nowhere stated in existing legislation or in previous cases: that the anti-discrimination regulations offer protection against discrimination and harassment only to individual dissidents and do not give protection to individuals who combine with like-minded people, on the basis of their philosophical beliefs, to further their aims, especially if they aspire to changing the structure of society.
"Mr Nicholson [says ET judge Weiniger] had a belief system… he practised in observance for himself. His choice of personal behaviour was regulated by his beliefs. It is not the case in Nicholson that he subscribed to the implementation of a system of government which would impose by rule on others the advocate’s social and economic objectives. Rather he would encourage others, by saying everyone is under a ‘moral duty’."
Weiniger separates two kinds of political belief. On one side, there are political beliefs "which involve the objective of the creation of a legally binding structure by power of government regulating others". On the other, there are "beliefs such as those of Mr Nicholson’s where his beliefs are expressed by his own practices but where he has no ambition to impose his scheme on others". Weiniger rules that "it is the latter which qualifies for protection".
In other words, individual dissent and moral persuasion are fine. On the other hand, minority ideas which challenge the existing ideology and structure of society and which are pursued through a political organisation with the aim of effecting real change are "extreme" and "repugnant". Individuals advocating such ideas (in collaboration with like-minded people) do not deserve protection from discrimination and harassment.
Mr Justice Burton’s ruling in the Nicholson case provides no justification for Weiniger’s arbitrary distinction. In fact, the section of Burton’s judgment quoted in Weiniger’s judgment contradicts the latter’s conclusion. Referring to the speech of Baroness Scotland, the Attorney General, when proposing the amended regulation in the House of Lords, Burton says: "The Attorney General suggested that ‘support for a political party’ might not meet the description of a philosophical belief. That surely must be so, but that does not mean that a belief in a political philosophy or doctrine would not qualify".
Burton continues: "belief in the political philosophies of Marxism, Communism or free-market capitalism might qualify. There is nothing to my mind in the make-up of a philosophical belief… which would disqualify a belief based on a political philosophy". Nowhere is any distinction made between individual beliefs and political beliefs pursued by individuals through collective action in a political party based on those ideas. A belief in the "supreme nature of the Jedi Knights" would not qualify as a philosophical belief because it is frivolous. Citing previous case law, Burton says a philosophical belief must concern "a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour", and must attain "a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance".
It is hard to see how Marxism and Trotskyism, which are based on coherent philosophical, economic, and political ideas, could fail to meet these criteria. In the Nicholson appeal, Mr Justice Burton asked Nicholson’s barrister (Dinah Rose) to articulate the concept of philosophical belief. Rose said: "The philosophical belief [of Nicholson] is that mankind is heading towards catastrophic climate change and therefore we are all under a moral duty to lead our lives in a manner which mitigates or avoids this catastrophe for the benefit of future generations, and to persuade others to do the same". Interestingly, Dinah Rose went on to say that if someone "had a similar belief that mankind is heading towards economic catastrophe, with the consequential asserted moral duty, then that too… would be capable of amounting to a philosophical belief for the purposes of the Regulations". (EAT Judgment, 7 October 2009: Grainger PLC v Mr T Nicholson)
Weiniger, however, seizes on Burton’s last criterion, that the belief concerned must be "worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity". This, says Burton, would exclude "a belief based on a political philosophy which could be characterised as objectionable: a racist or homophobic political philosophy for example". In reality, such ‘beliefs’ are expressions of prejudice and bigotry. Yet in order to deny the Four protection against discrimination and harassment, Weiniger relegates Marxism and Trotskyism to the level of racism and homophobia! This is ironic when the Four, together with other Socialist Party members, have a long record of combating racism and homophobia, and defending democratic rights within Unison. This is in accordance with the record of Trotskyists in fighting for democratic rights both within capitalist states and in the former Stalinist states of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
Freedom of speech
THE LEAFLET PRODUCED by the Four was a simple, inoffensive text calling for discussion of resolutions excluded from conference agenda by the Standing Orders Committee – illustrated by a cartoon that satirically depicted the SOC as the three wise monkeys, refusing to acknowledge the demands of rank-and-file delegates. Unison leaders claimed this was offensive and racist. This accusation was later modified to "unintentionally racist". In his evidence, Glenn Kelly commented: "The use of cartoons in political material, and political satire, is common and accepted practice within the union".
At one point, the ET judgment refers to this statement – and for a moment it appears that Weiniger may be favouring the right of a minority to protest and call for a change of policy or procedure. He refers to "the distinct rights of the individual in the political sphere, which [rest] on the clash of ideas and the ability to articulate criticism by scrutiny, censure and satire". Freedom of speech may involve "acerbic" comments or "trenchant criticism of an offensive nature".
So, even if the three wise monkeys leaflet could be considered offensive, the Four would have the right to produce it on freedom-of-speech grounds. This, however, is not Weiniger’s conclusion at all. The logic is tortuous, but his conclusion is clear enough.
In his view, "freedom of speech [is] as worthy of protection as the protection afforded by the laws against discrimination". But he has decided that the views of the Four are "repugnant" and therefore, in his view, not worthy of protection. So it becomes clear, even though Weiniger strangely avoids explicitly spelling it out, that he is defending the freedom-of-speech right of the Unison leaders to discriminate against a minority with opposing views – "even by means which involve trenchant criticism of an offensive nature". In this way Weiniger unmistakably sides with Unison leaders who use their control of the union’s apparatus to prevent democratic discussion of crucial policy issues at the annual conference, who used smears of racism to try to discredit the minority, and then launched protracted disciplinary procedures against them. This is justified on the grounds that the Four seek to impose a system of government that Unison leaders – or more to the point, Weiniger himself – are opposed to. So much for minority rights!
Weiniger asserts that "parliament did not pass a law which affords protection to those with extreme views, whether in the workplace or in trade unions, from trenchant criticisms…" Of course not. But Weiniger adds: "even expressed in a manner which in any other context would be regarded as discrimination or harassment". In other words, Weiniger wants to legitimise the harassment by union leaders of activists whose views he has decided are "extreme" and "repugnant". Hardly a defence of democracy!
Ignoring the evidence
THE EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAL ruled that there was no discrimination or harassment against the Four. However, it arrived at this conclusion through brushing aside compelling circumstantial evidence – and totally ignoring the testimony of a long-standing Unison officer who gave clear evidence of overt discrimination and harassment. In employment cases, for obvious reasons, there is rarely overt evidence of discrimination. But it is quite possible to draw the inference of discrimination from evidence – provided there is a thorough evaluation of the evidence.
The tribunal conspicuously failed to examine evidence of facts that, taken together, clearly pointed to discrimination. For example, Unison leaders maintained that the disciplinary action had nothing to do with the Four’s membership of the Socialist Party. Early versions of the disciplinary report, however, referred to their Socialist Party membership. In response to a pre-hearing questionnaire, the general secretary, Prentis, stated that he was unaware that Glenn Kelly and others were members of the Socialist Party. The ET found that this was "untrue" – but it failed to draw any inference from this.
The ET failed to examine why Matthew Waterfall, the secretary of the Hackney branch (where Brian Debus was chairperson), was initially subject to investigation but was later dropped from the disciplinary proceedings. Who can doubt that it was because Matthew was not a member of the Socialist Party? However, the tribunal accepted Unison’s excuse that Matthew Waterfall gave a more fulsome apology for unintended racist offence than the Four.
When the Four were told at the 2007 conference that some black members had been offended by the three wise monkeys leaflet, they wrote to the SOC and the Black Members group, apologising for any unintentional offence that may have been caused. It has been the practice of Unison to deal with incidents of "unintended offence" by way of a simple apology. Yet, in the case of the Four, the Unison leadership refused to accept the apology.
The ET also failed to consider whether the three wise monkeys leaflet at the heart of the case could reasonably be described as racist or offensive. In other words, was the charge based on reasonable grounds for complaint – or a pretext for a witch-hunt? The ET accepted that the Four had established a prima face case of discrimination, but found that they had not proved their case. But Weiniger’s approach was to deal with the evidence in a completely fragmented way, dismissing claims of discrimination, and refusing to examine the cumulative process.
The smoking gun: Tom Snow’s evidence
THE MOST BLATANT, extraordinary omission of the ET judgment is its failure to examine the evidence of Tom Snow, a former Unison regional official (who retired in February 2010). Apart from listing him as one of the people giving evidence to the tribunal, the judgment makes no reference to this key witness. Yet Snow’s testimony provides clear, detailed, direct evidence of prejudice, discrimination and harassment against Unison activists who uphold Trotskyist ideas.
In his witness statement, Tom Snow said: "To be a ‘Trot’ in Unison is to be at the receiving end of uninformed and casual condemnation by some more senior full-time officers. Over the years I have heard Glenn Kelly subjected to this at meetings of regional officers on a number of occasions". Glenn could easily hold his own in debates with officials and was "plainly on the side of increased union democracy. Both factors make him and his fellow Trotskyists the object of distrust manufactured by those who attacked them behind their backs. This clearly contradicts Unison’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness".
At the end of 2006, Tom Snow, to his surprise, found himself on the receiving end of organisational measures taken by the Unison leadership. Responsibility for the Bromley branch was taken away from him. "The more I asked the question why, the more strongly came back the answer that I had failed to ‘sort out’ and ‘deal with’ Glenn Kelly". Snow took out a grievance procedure against this arbitrary move, but to no avail. "I found my alleged failure to ‘sort out Glenn Kelly’ outrageous. There was nothing to sort out… I was never in any doubt as to the strong personal support for him amongst members in this very Tory borough. He also has the loyalty of other activists there who know at first hand the marvellous work he has done on behalf of many union members".
Tom Snow goes on to relate what happened at a two-day training course in April 2008 attended by regional organisers. The course went under the heading, ‘Meeting the Organising Challenge’. Snow and other regional organisers understood it to be a course to tackle the practicalities of reorganising the structure of the union. However, on the second day they found out that "dealing with ‘Trots’ turned out to be part of the agenda. Both Chris Remington, regional manager for health, and Linda Perks, regional secretary, intervened to make this clear. Following protests Linda Perks intervened for a second time, asserting that dealing with the Trots ‘was indeed part of the purpose of the course’. And she said it was what Dave Prentis wanted". However, says Snow, there was no "specific action by Trots alleged, nor any failure to act… none of my colleagues responded with any examples of our work which were remotely relevant to rooting out Trotskyism".
After the course, Tom Snow sent an email to Linda Perks complaining about the attack on Trotskyists. He did not receive a reply. "It was obvious to me both that the darts she and Chris had aimed at Trotskyists were completely illegitimate and a warning of some kind of initiative much more serious than the odd jibe in the offing".
"Glenn Kelly’s Trotskyism has to my knowledge never had any negative effect on the performance of his duties as a branch secretary", Tom Snow comments. Like other trade union activists, Glenn Kelly was "primarily committed to the organisation of workers in trade unions, warts and all". "Glenn Kelly in this regard is no different to anybody else in the union with strong socialist beliefs. The difference is in the labelling of those beliefs which have made him and his fellow Trotskyists the object of the unjustifiable sectarian detestation I have witnessed".
Tom Snow deplored the Unison managers’ clear intent to go after Trotskyists. He was grateful, he said, to be given the chance to speak out – except that ET judge Weiniger completely ignored his testimony! Tom Snow gives clear evidence of the discrimination and harassment by Unison officials against activists on the basis of their ideas, their philosophical beliefs, yet Weiniger chose to ignore this evidence when he wrote his judgment.
Following the ET judgment, Tom Snow wrote a devastating critique of the Unison leaders’ case against the Four. Dismissing the charges of failing to anticipate racial offence and attacking the integrity of the SOC as astonishing pretexts, he concludes: "They have been punished without doing any wrong". Their real offence was "trying to get the managerial power [of the Unison leadership], which we have now seen mobilised against them, under democratic control".
Unison leaders may be consoling themselves that they have received unexpected re-enforcement from the ET. But the biased judgment will be rejected by trade union activists for what it is: a blatantly ideological ruling in favour of free-market capitalism. At the same time, the ideas and policies of the Socialist Party – based on Marxism and Trotskyism – will continue to gain support. Under New Labour, the Unison leaders conspicuously failed to protect members’ pay, jobs, pensions and other benefits. In fact, they acted as self-appointed political police for the Blair-Brown government, doing all they could to hold back rank-and-file struggles. Faced with the horrendous cuts being threatened by the Con-Dem coalition, they have no strategy for defending workers. However, workers will be forced to struggle to defend their living standards, and they will turn to ideas – ‘philosophical beliefs’ – that provide guidance for struggle. Judges may try to stigmatise Marxist and Trotskyist ideas as ‘repugnant’, but they are becoming more and more attractive to those who want to defend the interests of workers and fight for a better society.
The Unison Four
Brian Debus; branch chair of Hackney Unison
Onay Kasab: branch secretary of Greenwich Unison
Glenn Kelly: Unison national executive and branch secretary of Bromley Unison
Suzanne Muna: branch secretary of Unison Tenant Services Authority