Leading health trade unionist and psychiatric nurse Yunus Bakhsh was suspended from work a year ago this week after anonymous accusations.
A particularly effective trade unionist, Yunus is known to many because of his determination and his inspirational speaking style.
It is clear that management saw Yunus as a thorn in their side and that the attack on him was politically motivated.
They have used Yunus’s absence from work to weaken the Unison union and push through cuts.
“Yunus’s suspension by the employer was disgusting,” Alan Doherty, secretary of Unison’s local government branch in Darlington, told Socialist Worker in a personal capacity.
“Management had been looking for an excuse to do this to Yunus for a long time, and the accusations gave them the opportunity.
“But Yunus has done an extremely good job to continue the fight over the last year. It is a tribute to his determination and strong character.”
Among Yunus’s colleagues in Newcastle there is bewilderment and resentment at the way he has been treated.
Nurse Claire Bullock told Socialist Worker, “Managers think that they can get away with whatever they want now. On my ward there are cuts, even down to the kind of fruit juice available.
“Recently a manager even refused to get washing powder for a patient because of the cuts.
“That is the kind of thing that Yunus fought against, and that is why they want him out of the way.”
Staff nurse and Unison member Michael Pacitti told Socialist Worker, “The last 12 months have been awful. We’ve seen budgets being slashed, older people’s services cut, a residential unit going and an acute admissions ward being closed.
“The trust is also applying to get foundation status, which is part of the government’s plans to increase privatisation in the NHS.
“You have to ask why they believe they can get away with all this now. The answer is that if Yunus had been in post, he would have been a huge headache for them.
“With Yunus we had one of the best organised union branches anywhere in Britain. Now we are badly weakened. Unison’s northern region has effectively had its back broken.”
For almost two decades Yunus has fought for trade union rights at the Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS trust and its predecessors.
As joint secretary of his Unison branch Yunus had, in August of last year, infuriated his management by revealing the huge pay rises they had awarded themselves, while leading a campaign against their proposals to close down a care home.
Within weeks bosses had suspended Yunus, claiming they were acting on an anonymous letter of complaint.
They used this as a pretext for a full investigation into Yunus, and his role in the union.
Trust directors had already written to senior Unison officials threatening disciplinary action against him, saying they objected to the way he carried out his trade union duties.
Unfortunately Unison, rather than throwing itself into supporting such an important activist, instead turned on him.
Just before Yunus’s first investigatory hearing with the trust in January, Unison suspended him from office.
Many union activists regard Yunus’s union suspension as a political attack by Unison’s leadership.
The union’s leaders are worried that the growing anger with Labour could threaten the union’s relationship with the party. Yunus, as one of the best-known left wingers in the union, is a threat to those who want to keep in with the government.
Alan Doherty said, “Since Yunus’s suspension from his union positions, we have seen Unison move towards the establishment. Our Unison region has gone from being a left-leaning organisation towards one that is more in favour of the status quo. There is less democracy in the union and a bad atmosphere at most meetings.
“Yunus was always able to rally people against attacks. But the union now wants to replace him with New Labour types.
“The question is, how will those replacements fight to defend our members against the impact of policies that they themselves agree with?”
Another worker at the trust told Socialist Worker, “Since Yunus was suspended management are picking on the union stewards a lot more, and they are breaking their own rules to do so.
“They think that by suspending Yunus they are chopping the head off the union – and that the rest of us activists will fall into line. Unfortunately it is true that the union is not the same now, quite a few stewards have taken leave from representing members.
“The national union should have given Yunus the support he needed. Once it didn’t, management felt they would be able to get away with other attacks.”
Union members at the trust miss the support that Yunus gave them.
Paul Killeen, a community mental health nurse, said, “Nine times out of ten, people who had disciplinary cases would want Yunus to represent them, as he always stood his ground.
“Since his suspension our union branch is not even allowed to meet properly. There are officers’ meetings but no details are cascaded down to the membership about what’s going on.
“That has resulted in a lot of people talking about leaving Unison. There is a lot of anger among ordinary members here. I am representing somebody who told me that he thought there was a ‘witch-hunt’ going on.”
Yunus has won wide support across Unison. Some 300 delegates at Unison’s national conference attended a fringe meeting in support of him and Tony Staunton.
Around 150 delegates at the Unison health conference also attended a fringe meeting to defend Yunus.
Both management and Unison are continuing their investigatory hearings. Yunus and his supporters are continuing the fight against the attacks.
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