Even though motion makes no mention of Unison, union tells branches motion is out of order
Unison members are being told by their union that they are not allowed to vote on a motion of support for the union’s own president.
Paul Holmes has been suspended for well over a year by Kirklees council in what supporters say is a political stitch-up, with no charges disclosed against him despite a 15-month council investigation. A prolonged disciplinary hearing has now begun, without a word of support from the union for its own president against an employer accused of targeting him for his union activism.
Holmes’s supporters have claimed that Unison’s right-wing management is at the least happy to see him out of action and even that it has obstructed his defence out of a desire to see him exit the union. Holmes would have won the union’s last general secretary election, had the establishment left not insisted on fielding a weaker candidate against him and dividing the left vote.
Branches attempting to debate the motion have been told by the union’s management – including by former right-wing Labour fixer John Stolliday, who was accused by a leaked Labour report of wanting to cancel Labour’s leadership election when it was clear Jeremy Corbyn would win and who was still appointed by Unison to run its internal elections, despite the fury of national executive members – that they are not allowed to do so:
Some branches have reported being told that the motion would be against Unison’s rules, but that no rule has been quoted. By contrast – and as shown below – the union’s official policy obliges it to defend Holmes and any other targeted rep.
A target on the backs of every Unison rep
Unison activists have responded that it is unthinkable for a union not to support its own president against an employer – and that this sends a chilling message to every one of the union’s reps around the country – and giving ‘the green light’ to employers to come after them ‘without fear’.
One rep told Skwawkbox:
If UNISON continue to frustrate the will of its members to pass a simple motion in support of a fellow trade union rep who is being victimised for being a hard working union rep then they will be placing a target on the backs of every UNISON rep and giving all employers the green light to target UNISON reps with impunity and without fear of any fightback.
The banned motion reads:
This Branch notes:
• The suspension by Labour-led Kirklees Council of UNISON Branch Secretary Paul Holmes in December 2019
• That Kirklees Council has had almost two years to carry out an investigation
• That Paul has been a Nalgo and then UNISON steward for 46 years, and Branch Secretary for 32 years, and is currently the President of UNISON
• That Kirklees UNISON is one of the largest branches in the country and had 3 live strike ballots and one pending when Paul was suspended
• That the Council’s Deputy Leader said at the time, “There is a Father Christmas”.
This Branch believes:
• That an injury to one is an injury to all – employers must not be allowed to get away with attacking our union organisation and our union activists, reps, branch and national officers
• The Deputy Leader’s statement shows that UNISON and Paul have been a thorn in their side, and critical to resisting cuts and closures of public services – delaying any investigation for so long indicates the aim was more to undermine union organisation in the Council.
This Branch resolves:
• To campaign for Kirklees Council to end the suspension of Paul
• To write to both the Chief Executive and the Council Leader calling on them to lift Paul’s suspension
• To affiliate to the Defend Paul Holmes Campaign and publicise and mobilise for campaign events and activities
• To call on UNISON to offer its full support to a campaign to stop one of its activists being victimised
• To send a message of support to Paul Holmes.
Skwawkbox contacted Unison earlier this week for comment, asking:
1. What rule would be broken by this motion being tabled or passed?
2. Contrary to it being against rule, the motion is in fact in line with Unison conference policy, namely the 2014 policy decision below on supporting union reps cited below:
UNISON Conference Policy Defending Trade Union Activists
Conference, 2014 National Delegate Conference, Date 21 February 2014 Decision Carried as Amended.
Conference notes with concern the increasing number of trade union activists who are being victimised under this Tory-led government. We believe there will be an increasing number of victimised trade union reps, because we are at the forefront of defending the public sector from the cuts we all face.
We must learn the lessons of campaigns to defend trade union activists – both successful and unsuccessful. One successful example is the campaign to ‘Defend Jawad, Max and Steve’. Max Watson was Chair of London Met University UNISON Branch on 7th Feb 2013 when he was suspended alongside Jawad Botmeh (also a UNISON member) and Steve Jefferys (a UCU member). Conference notes the campaign for ‘Freedom and Justice for Jawad and Samar’ against the miscarriage of justice they faced when imprisoned in 1996 on a charge of conspiracy to cause explosions, which received national UNISON support. We believe this support was fundamental to gaining support for the subsequently successful campaign to reinstate Jawad, Max and Steve in 2013.
After five weeks of campaigning, including; rallies outside investigation hearings attracting over 200 people; 2,500+ names on a petition; hundreds of emails and letters sent to the university management; letters of support from across the labour movement and around the world; all support publicised via a campaign website; organised through a Facebook group, email list and twitter account; 200+ people at a public meeting with speakers from across the labour movement; an immediate threat of (lawful) industrial action (within UNISON’s rules); and vitally, all with the full and support of UNISON’s National Executive Council and Presidential Team, Max Watson was reinstated and returned to work on 13th March 2013.
As a direct result of this vigorous campaigning with the full support of our union the direct threat of dismissal, which could have decapitated the branch, was reduced to a six months final written warning. UNISON’s solicitors, Thompsons, then challenged this sanction with a claim for trade union victimisation to an employment tribunal.
Conference – made up of delegates of active trade unionists who put our necks on the line for our members day in day out – resolves to do all in our power to protect our own; to stand up for each other when called on, and to protect the ‘backbone’ of our union.
Why is Unison ignoring its policy obligation?
3. If the union is banning branches from supporting its president, Unison’s network of reps are going to feel – and I quote one of them – ‘like they’ve painted a target on our back for the bosses’. Why should reps trust the union to protect them if it won’t come out for its president and is in fact blocking attempts to support him?
4. Why does Mr Holmes remain suspended by Unison, months after being democratically elected as its president?
No response had been received by the time of writing, several days later.
The council’s secret case against Paul Holmes, the democratically-elected, left-wing president of the UK’s largest union, continues. The right-dominated union’s management not only remains silent but, judging by the emails received by branches, has banned members even from voting on a statement of support.
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