A most extraordinary scandal has been exposed in the case of Yunus Bakhsh, a health worker who has been sacked by his employer and expelled from the Unison union.
Yunus, a Newcastle-based psychiatric nurse, has a reputation as a champion of the lowest paid workers in the NHS and a vigorous opponent of racism.
He was sacked in June last year after an anonymous complaint to his management.
Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Trust proceeded with his disciplinary hearing even though he was signed off sick, and health professionals had certified his inability to attend.
When the original complaint was made, Yunus raised the possibility that it could be motivated by racism.
He was told that this could be explored when it came to the full hearing.
By proceding without Yunus being present, the trust made it impossible for him to raise this aspect of the case. It has now emerged that Kerry Cafferty, a Unison member at Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Trust, provided fundamentally important evidence against Yunus.
An examination of her profile on the Facebook internet social network site at the end of last year revealed that she is the “friend” of an open member of the Nazi British National Party and a member of several Facebook groups that have become a focus for racists and fascists.
These include “England is our country.....our rules, don’t like it fuck off!!!”, “NO MORE! Asylum seekers in Britain”, “stop councils trying to stop xmas incase [sic] it offends ethnics..!!”, “OI ! THIS IS ENGLAND” and “MAKE GREAT BRITAIN BRITISH AGAIN”.
Kerry Cafferty clearly knew what she was joining. You cannot become a member of these groups without giving your consent.
Her decision to join some of the groups certainly alarmed some of her other friends.
One admonished her after she joined the group “NO MORE! Asylum seekers in Britain”, saying, “And by the way I hope you are never in danger of being raped or murdered and seek asylum in another country and they tell you to F*** O**. Sleep tight meeny!!!!!”
This did not apparently cause any change of heart. Instead, three days later on 18 December, Kerry Cafferty joined “England is our country.....our rules, don’t like it fuck off!!!”
Cafferty’s “friend” Mark Armstrong sent her a message, “just joined kerry!!! x.”
Armstrong gives his politics as BNP on his Facebook profile. On 20 December Cafferty joined the group “stop councils trying to stop xmas incase it offends ethnics..!!”
She joined “OI ! THIS IS ENGLAND” and “MAKE GREAT BRITAIN BRITISH AGAIN” on New Year’s Eve. These groups’ message boards are full of racism.
Why does Kerry Cafferty have facebook “friends” who are openly members of the fascist BNP?
Why has she joined sites that are a focus for racists, Nazis and open BNP members?
How can she reconcile her membership of Unison – which strongly opposes all forms of racism – with her membership of these groups?
But, further than this, over two years ago Yunus raised the issue of whether the allegations against him were motivated in whole or in part by racism.
This very serious concern does not appear to have been investigated in any proper way.
John Freeman, Unison’s national strategy manager, wrote to Yunus in June 2006 refusing Yunus’s request for a motivation of racism to be investigated.
Freeman said that Unison has no duty to investigate racism in disciplinary matters, as the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 does not apply to trade unions.
For many years Unison held that this act – which, among other things, aims to tackle institutional racism – should be further extended so that it covers all organisations, not just the stated public authorities.
Unison agreed that the act should also apply to trade unions, and agreed voluntarily to adhere to it.
The legislation states clearly that allegations of racial discrimination in disciplinary hearings must be shown to have been investigated thoroughly and effectively.
Socialist Worker asked at the time whether the evidence against Yunus was tainted because it was rooted in racism towards a leading black trade unionist who had achieved a prominent position locally and nationally? We ask this question again now.
On her Facebook site Kerry Cafferty is pictured with her husband, Peter Cafferty. He is the chair of health for Unison Northern Region and the union’s chair of staff side at Northumberland Tyne and Wear trust.
He sits on the branch officers’ group appointed to run the branch and on the regional committee. He is also a senior figure in Unison’s Labour Link organisation.
Both Kerry and Peter Cafferty gave important evidence in both cases that Yunus faced, during his dismissal from his work and his expulsion from Unison.
Kerry Cafferty appeared as an “anonymous” witness. Both Yunus and his union full time officer Peter Chapman were denied the right to cross-examine her.
A Unison activist having just completed a course should be familiar with the union’s strong anti-racist message.
It is crucial that a full investigation and appropriate action is taken over all these matters.
The employer cannot ignore the serious concerns many workers have over this case. It must be able to give robust assurances about the future commitment of all employees to equality.
Unison’s black workers’ conference this weekend should debate what Yunus’s case means for the fight against racism inside the union.
But it is also necessary to follow through the implications for Yunus.
He should be immediately reinstated in the union, and the charges against him (all of which depend in whole or in part on the evidence of Kerry Cafferty) should be dropped.
The union should also fully support Yunus in demanding that the trust withdraws his sacking and reinstates him – with compensation.
The Unison union says of the BNP, “Where the BNP make gains racist attacks and hate crimes often increase.
“BNP activists have also been convicted of petrol bomb attacks, for racist and common assault, for violent disorder, for criminal damage and for assaulting police officers.”
Clare Williams, Unison’s northern regional convenor, said at the union’s conference last year, “In Unison we can rightly be proud of our campaigning work against the BNP... but let’s be clear, we have still got work to do.
“This is our message to the BNP. We will challenge you wherever you are until there is not a single BNP councillor and you are back in the gutter where you belong.”
This presumably means that union activists should not have BNP members as “friends” on Facebook.
In response to the allegations, Gill Hale, the Unison northern regional secretary, and Clare Williams have written to all branches in the region.
This reads, “I (sic) am aware that an email regarding a complaint made to the general secretary about one of our activists has been circulated to some branches within the region.
“I am therefore making you aware that the union takes such complaints seriously and have instigated a formal investigation, which as with all such investigations will be treated confidentially.”