Socialist Worker

Unite must throw weight behind Abdul Omer

by Viv Smith
Issue No. 2263

The campaign to reinstate Abdul Omer Mohsin, the sacked Unite union convenor on Sovereign buses in London, has dragged on for more than a year.

The situation has forced Abdul to publicly demand that Unite act in his defence.

The emotional and financial strain on Abdul is enormous.

He faces eviction from his home as he cannot afford his mortgage payments.

And Abdul has been hospitalised three times in the past month, diagnosed with a serious heart condition linked to stress.

Shockingly, the first hospitalisation came during a union Region Industrial Sector Committee (RISC) in June.

Abdul, an elected committee member, was told that he could not raise his case as he is no longer a union member. He was denied travel expenses.

After the meeting, the Unite region sent Abdul a letter stating that his membership subscription was in arrears and he could lose all financial support from the union for his legal fees.

This added enormously to his distress. Abdul was around £20 in arrears, not over £200 as claimed.

When Abdul was sacked, Unite argued that it was because of his union activity.

It rejected management claims that he had intimidated a witness while representing a worker at a disciplinary hearing.

Launched

Unite praised Abdul as a leading militant. His face adorns union posters from the London pay campaign, which was launched with a protest outside Transport for London in 2007.

Strikes and protests continued throughout 2008. Thousands of drivers took part. At its height the campaign saw drivers at First, Metroline and Metrobus set to strike together.

But the threat of legal action saw the union call off the strikes. And they were never put back on.

Despite this, in September 2009 drivers occupied Transport for London’s offices to demand centralised pay bargaining. Abdul led the occupation.

In October 2008, Abdul and other activists convinced drivers at Sovereign to reject an appalling pay offer. They voted by 98 percent for a strike ballot and struck in January 2009.

But management undermined the union by making a pay offer to drivers individually, and the union, worried about division, suspended the action.

Abdul fought hard to get the strikes reinstated.

It was in this context that Abdul was sacked. Sovereign management were desperate to break the drivers’ militancy—sacking Abdul was an opportunity to do so.

But drivers wanted to fight. As recently as May, Sovereign drivers voted for a campaign to be launched in Abdul’s defence.



Drivers have rejected moves to elect a new convenor until Abdul’s case is resolved.

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, said that Abdul had his “unequivocal support”. But Unite has failed to organise a ballot for action over his reinstatement.

At different points there has been confusion over the direction of the campaign. Sometimes the Unite officers handling it have disagreed sharply with Abdul over the way forward.

This is bound to happen in a difficult situation where the sacked worker is under enormous strain.

But no matter what the disagreements in the past, Abdul deserves support from his union—and the union needs militants like Abdul.

Attacks

Bus drivers in the capital face serious attacks on their pay and conditions.

If Sovereign succeeds in sacking a well-known activist it sends a message to other groups of workers.

“I want to be fighting the Sovereign managers who sacked me, not my trade union,” Abdul told Socialist Worker.

“There is so much to fight for—I want to be part of that, but that means getting my job back.”

Abdul wants a ballot for his reinstatement, if there is a serious campaign to win it. “We need to put pressure on the company,” he added.

“The last year has been incredibly stressful. But if we make my case public we can show that the company has behaved disgracefully. I think we can win. This will mean running a vigorous campaign.”

The London-wide action in 2008 showed that bus drivers are powerful. With the Olympics on the horizon, they are in a strong position to fight management attacks.

A campaign uniting bus workers across the capital could turn back the employers’ attacks.

Defending Abdul must be a priority for Unite if it is to show the bosses that it means business.

Donations payable to Mr A.I. Omer, Barclays, account 20408859, sort code 20-69-15. Copies of Unite branch cheques should be sent to Peter Kavanagh as the union has promised to match donations: Unite, Woodberry, 218 Green Lanes, Finsbury Park, London N4 2HB.

Solidarity messages and donation pledges to Abdul at omermohsin2@yahoo.co.uk


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Tue 2 Aug 2011, 17:38 BST
Issue No. 2263
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