Britain’s biggest public sector union has expelled one of its best-known activists following a campaign against him that has lasted for nearly two years.
Newcastle-based psychiatric nurse Yunus Bakhsh was so well thought of by his fellow Unison members in the union’s northern region that he was elected to the health executive with a whopping 86 percent of the vote in 2006.
He gained his reputation over two decades as a champion of the lowest paid workers in the NHS and a vigorous opponent of cuts.
Wherever workers were fighting back, Yunus could be found offering support, solidarity and inspiration.
He often travelled hundreds of miles to visit picket lines, knowing that a few hours later he would either be on shift on his ward or carrying out casework for members of his branch.
Management at the NHS Trust that employed Yunus were rightly scared by the strength of union organisation in their hospitals, and understood the role that Yunus had played in building it.
In the late 1990s they led an attempt to sack him that failed as a result of the widespread support that he enjoyed.
In August 2006, Yunus spoke out against his bosses awarding themselves 30 percent pay rises as they announced that services had to be cut.
The Trust then sent a letter to Unison threatening Yunus with disciplinary action and the following month he was suspended from work.
Managers later claimed they had received an “anonymous” letter about Yunus – a letter they would not let him see.
This should have been a signal to Unison to launch a determined defence.
Yunus’s union branch demanded the national union authorise a ballot for industrial action, but instead the branch was placed under “regional administration”. And, following a sham consultation, the national union decided that no such ballot would be held.
Instead Unison decided to launch its own “investigation” into Yunus, and in January 2007 he was suspended from all his union positions.
Unison said that it had received allegations of bullying against Yunus. It later added to these by including the possibility that he had been involved in harassment of a potentially criminal nature – allegations the union never made Yunus aware of.
Despite this claim being circulated to the union’s executive, the allegations were never investigated or withdrawn – despite Northumbria Police issuing a statement saying that they had received no complaints against Yunus.
Yet despite the seriousness of bullying claims, they are not the cause of Yunus’s expulsion.
Instead, he has been found guilty of miscellaneous crimes, including breaking election regulations by campaigning without permission, and bringing the union into disrepute by representing a member and saving his job.
The union also charged him with a number of minor financial irregularities – charges that Yunus is unable to refute as he has been denied access to the necessary financial records held in his branch office.
Unison continued its disciplinary hearings even after it became clear that Yunus was unwell and unable to attend.
The various charges against him are nothing but an attempt by the union’s leaders to remove a thorn in their side.
As a determined campaigner and a socialist, Yunus has constantly fought against the damaging effects of government policies towards the NHS and the unions.
At every turn, and with growing support, he has questioned the slavish support of Unison leaders for New Labour.
As anger over pay cuts and privatisation among NHS workers has grown, so too has the possibility of resistance and a more radical political outlook for the whole union.
It was for that reason that Unison leaders seized a chance to rob the left of one its best fighters.
Yunus is determined to keep up his fight against both his sacking and his expulsion.
His appeal against his employer is scheduled to start next month and he has an employment tribunal claim lodged against the Trust.
But without the support of his union, Yunus has been forced to fund all his legal expenses himself. It is vital that trade unionists from across Britain rally to his cause by sending messages of solidarity and donations.
A lobby of the Unison union’s headquarters was held this week by supporters of four Unison branch officers being investigated by the union for publishing a leaflet on the union conference’s right to debate issues such as Labour Party funding.
They demanded the union end disciplinary procedures against all concerned.
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