Socialist Worker

Fight to support key health activist Yunus Bakhsh

by Yuri Prasad
Issue No. 2035

Yunus Bakhsh has consistently organised to defend the NHS and campaign for social justice (Pic: Ray Smith)

Yunus Bakhsh has consistently organised to defend the NHS and campaign for social justice (Pic: Ray Smith)

Yunus Bakhsh is one of the best known health union activists in Britain.

As a nurse and the joint branch secretary of the Unison union's North of Tyne branch, he has been a fighter for the NHS and those who work in it for more than 20 years.

Now he is under attack from both his employers and sections of the leadership of his own union.

Last August Yunus led a high profile campaign against cuts in facilities for patients in the NHS trust where he works.

A month later he was suspended from his job after management received a number of anonymous accusations against him. It has taken over four months to set up an investigatory hearing into these claims and to give Yunus a chance to clear his name.

In October Yunus's branch voted for a ballot for industrial action to defend its secretary.

Since then the branch, which was to merge with two other branches, has been placed in regional administration by the union and a full time official is now acting as the secretary. No industrial action is organised.

Last week Unison's north east regional council was not even allowed to discuss Yunus's case and observers from his branch were asked to leave the meeting by the regional convenor.

An election for the secretary of the newly merged branch, in which Yunus would be a candidate, was expected to be hotly contested.

The initial complaints to management against Yunus came from stewards in one of the branches that was to merge. It is believed that the same people who complained to management then complained to the union.


Before his employer had even started their investigation into the complaints the northern region of Unison organised its own hearing. Despite no stewards from Yunus's branch being allowed to tell the hearing their side of the story, Yunus was suspended from office.

Gilly Anglin-Jarrett, chair of Unison's national black members committee is among many high profile union members who are arguing for support for Yunus.

She told Socialist Worker, 'I am calling for Unison to lift the suspension. The union's actions have sent a negative message to the employer and smack of collusion.'

Many of the allegations against Yunus are similar to those which have featured in disciplinary cases involving institutional racism.

'Black activists have often been accused by employers of 'intimidating behaviour' when all they are doing is standing by their members,' said Gilly.

'It can sometimes be as little as raising your voice, or acting in a way that a manager would accept from a white person but not a black person.

'Here we are on 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery and yet black people are still directly experiencing the ongoing effects of slavery through the combined action of dodgy employers and officers in our own union.'

Whether or not there is a case for Yunus to answer, the key priority for the union should be to fight to defend his job, said Caroline Bedale, a member of Unison's health service group executive.

'If there are any internal union matters, they should be dealt with only after the case by his employers has been concluded,' she said. 'Anything else gives his employers a green light to attack him with impunity.'


Union activists are now preparing for a protest outside management's investigatory hearing, which will take place in Newcastle on Tuesday of next week.

Mark Ladbrooke, branch chair of Oxford health unison and member of the health service group executive, is among those organising to attend.

'Our branch feels so strongly about this that we have made representations to our union leadership on the need to fight to defend Yunus,' he told Socialist Worker. 'I urge every Unison branch, every health trade unionist and every activist to do the same.'

Trade unionists speak out against victimisation

Outrage at the attacks on Yunus have reverberated through the trade union movement. Some of them spoke to Socialist Worker:

'Yunus is one of the best known lay activists in the north east of England. I can't think of a single significant industrial dispute in the last 20 years in which Yunus has not played a role. The lack of action being taken by his union to defend him reflects the fact that some union leaders are prepared to sacrifice him.'
Peter Rutherford
Amicus secretary, Seimens Power Generation

'It was Yunus who persuaded me, at the age of 56, to become a shop steward and get involved in the union. I have always been particularly impressed by the way he works with women – he treats us with dignity and respect.'
Carol Holiday
Unison steward, Northumberland Tyne & Wear NHS Trust

'Yunus has been a loyal friend of our branch. During our all out strike in 1995, which lasted for three weeks, Yunus went the extra mile to deliver moral, financial and even physical support. Now that he needs us, we will be more than happy to return that support.'
John Woodhouse
branch secretary, CWU, Newcastle Amalgamated branch

'When we went on strike last year one of the first things we did was to go and see Yunus. He agreed to come and talk at our meeting – he spoke brilliantly and made us all feel ten feet tall. When we heard that the union was victimising him, we were absolutely livid. This is a political attack by the union leadership on someone who won't toe their line.'
Gail Callaghan
Unison activist, Newcastle Health Trust

Defend Yunus Bakhsh – join the protest

Tuesday 30 January, 12 noon
Tyne & Wear NHS Trust's investigatory hearing
St Nicholas Hospital, Jubilee Road,
Gosforth, Newcastle

For more details contact the Defend Yunus Bakhsh Campaign c/o 46c Lawe Road, South Shields, Tyne & Wear NE33 2EN. Phone 07958 171 205. Send messages of support to Yunus at

All union members quoted on this page are speaking in a personal capacity.

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Article information

Sat 27 Jan 2007, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2035
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