URGENT SUPPORT is needed for three branch officers of the Unison union in Hackney, east London, who have been suspended by council management. The disciplinary action raises crucial questions for the union movement about racism and union rights.
Hackney Unison officials had intended to present a draft report on racism to Hackney council's race equality group. The intention was to allow the council to comment on the draft before it was finalised and sent to the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE).
It is believed that the report argued that the council had failed to comply with a non-discrimination notice already served by the CRE in 2000. On the afternoon of 4 December the council phoned the national union office and threatened to sue for defamation unless the report was withdrawn.Unison agreed to its withdrawal.
On 11 December Hackney council suspended Unison joint branch secretaries Brian Debus and Will Leng, and equalities officer John Page. They now face dismissal.
While the specific allegations against each of them vary, essentially they are alleged to have distributed the draft report, and in so doing have disclosed matters that the council believes they should have kept confidential. John Page has a further allegation arising from his union representation of a number of women who had complained of their treatment by management.
The threatened dismissals are a challenge to the whole of the trade union movement, as well as undermining the right to challenge racism. Council workers have already held a lunchtime protest against the suspensions, and meetings in several workplaces have called for strikes.
Hackney Unison has requested permission to hold a strike ballot. The campaign against victimisation has already won the backing of Tony Benn, several local union branches, the national coordinator of Operation Black Vote and many others.
Send messages of support for the local branch to firstname.lastname@example.org or fax 020 8985 6749.
Send messages of protest to Claer Lloyd-Jones (Hackney director of law and probity): e-mail email@example.com; and Jules Pipe (Hackney mayor): firstname.lastname@example.org or fax 020 8356 3657.