Paul Holmes has been suspended by Kirklees council and by the union – along with his union branch, preventing it from acting on his behalf
Working-class union activist Paul Holmes came close to preventing the right-wing succession plan at the top of the giant Unison’s staff structures – and would have beaten Christine McAnea to election as general secretary of the union had the machine-left heeded warnings that their candidate was too weak to win and would split the left vote. That contest saw the Unison national executive then in place change its voting rules during its nomination meeting to prevent Holmes – who had pledged to take a salary of only £32,000 and donate the remaining £100,000 or so to charity – winning the executive’s backing in the contest.
McAnea went on to use her first radio interview as general secretary to attack the left-wing general secretary of fellow giant union Unite, rather than to attack the Tories.
Holmes then went on to help orchestrate the left’s fightback that resulted in a big left majority on the union’s national executive – and was subsequently elected as Unison’s president. But the Unison machine had suspended him in what his supporters say was an attempt to nobble his general secretary bid and has so far been unable to take up his post.
And now Holmes faces an attempt to remove him from the union entirely, through what those who know him say is a blatantly political disciplinary process by his employers at Kirklees council – with Holmes’s union offering no support and even obstructing his fightback.
The Bakers comparison
Last week, when Labour threatened to suspend Bakers’ union president Ian Hodson, the BFAWU responded by recalling its conference to hold a vote to disaffiliate completely from the party – and timing the vote to pull press attention away from Keir Starmer’s make-or-break conference speech.
In stark contrast, Holmes’s supporters say that the union has organised no action to defend its president from the council’s vexatious action – and argue that the union has in fact obstructed Holmes’s efforts to defend against the undisclosed charges against him and two branch colleagues.
Instead, while Kirklees council has refused to say what Holmes is being investigated for – despite a fifteen-month investigation – Unison publicly agreed with the investigation and backed the secrecy about what Holmes is supposed to have done, issuing a statement that there were ‘confidential’ issues, but without saying why confidentiality was supposedly needed.
And now, six months after the investigation concluded in March, the council is holding a protracted hearing into the hidden charges that will begin on 6 September and drag on for 5-6 weeks, with one day’s hearing every week or so – bizarrely, not at the council’s offices but at a four-star hotel outside Huddersfield – and without even the provision of teas or coffees for Holmes or his team.
A source close to Holmes’s campaigns said that the union is at a ‘pivotal moment’ for its future direction and that they believe that the union right sees Holmes as a threat to its plans, both as president now and as a future left challenger to McAnea. They went on:
Where every other union would normally be shouting about victimisation of a trade union rep, organising a ballot for industrial action, the general secretary writing to the employer to demand that the victimisation persist.
If Kirklees council decides it can get away with terminating his employment, that will be the end of his position as president and even as a member of the union. The right thinks it can cut the head off the resistance and neutralise the threat. He hasn’t even had a response to his emails and letters to Christine McAnea – from the union’s president to its general secretary – and she hasn’t even bothered to respond.
Paul’s not just the elected president either. He’s also been elected as Unison’s delegate to the TUC but he can’t fulfil that either because of all this.
This is a Corbyn moment, the right trying to destroy the left’s threat. But if Paul is dismissed, the things that will come out will reveal atrocious conduct by the union and its officers.
Paul Holmes’s supporters have organised a rally in person and online to support Holmes from the first day of the council’s hearing, with a physical presence at the venue and an online event:
Skwawkbox contacted Unison’s press office for comment via its emergency number, with the following questions:
- what assistance is Mr Holmes receiving from the union to fight the case?
- why is Mr Holmes’s branch suspended and unable to provide support?
- what activities eg pickets, industrial action is Unison planning to defend its president?
- what statement has Christine McAnea put on record to support him?
- BFAWU is holding a conference vote on disaffiliation from the Labour party because of Labour’s threat to its president. Why isn’t Unison, the UK’s biggest union, making a huge noise about this action against its elected president and taking every possible action to force Kirklees council to back down?
- why does Mr Holmes remain suspended by Unison and unable to take up the role to which he was overwhelmingly elected?
- the council has hired a hotel for the disciplinary hearing, rather than use its offices. What intervention or representation has Unison made against this unusual procedure?
- Holmes is Unison’s delegate to TUC, but unable to fulfil that role because of this situation. Why is Unison not acting?
- Mr Holmes’s supporters allege that the union has in fact been obstructive of his efforts to fight his council suspension. What is the union’s response to the allegation?
At the time of writing, more than a day later and more than 14 hours after the deadline, there has been no response at all from the union.
Those wishing to participate in the online rally to support Holmes can do so by clicking here at 9am on 6 Sep and entering eeting ID: 860 4303 5667 and passcode ‘Paul’.
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