Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 1839

Their only ‘crime’ was to defend NHS

This article is over 21 years, 3 months old
By Yunus Bakhsh and Mark New (both Unison NEC), and Claire Williams (convenor Northern Region Unison)
Issue 1839

TWO LEADING campaigners for the health service, Candy Udwin and Dave Carr, have been unjustly expelled from the Unison union. It is one of the most shameful episodes in the history of Unison. It is the final act of a political witch-hunt that was waged by a section of the Unison bureaucracy. This witch-hunt began with the election of New Labour in 1997.

It became apparent that New Labour’s agenda was privatisation, and that Blair saw himself as Thatcher Mark Two. A section of the union leadership decided to remove those activists who they felt could lead a real opposition to New Labour’s Tory agenda. The price of loyalty to New Labour was to be the heads of socialists. These were the very people who had given years of hard work and dedication to keeping union organisation intact during the dark years of the Tories.

Dave and Candy’s only crime was to lead a strike against the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). They told the truth-that the strike was to defend the NHS and to stop PFI. Yet, instead of being supported, the UCLH branch was attacked by the Unison leadership.

The management of UCLH used the Tory anti trade union laws against the action. The union leadership responded by blaming Dave and Candy and demanding their removal. Every activist in the union knows this was a political attack. The process of the disciplinary was a farce. It culminated in Dave and Candy being denied the right to put their case at their own disciplinary. Despite this, Candy was elected deputy convenor of London.

People who know Dave and Candy speak of their dedication and commitment, not just to Unison members but to all workers and trade unionists. Whenever solidarity is needed they are the first there and the last to leave. When Dave Prentis was elected general secretary of Unison he promised a new era, an end to political attacks and an end to the witch-hunt.

Yet for all Prentis’s fine words Dave and Candy have still been expelled. Blair is preparing to take us into a military war. He is already waging a war against public sector workers. In such a battle no union can afford to remove some of its key fighters. Even at this stage it is still possible for Prentis and Unison’s national executive committee to step back from this act of madness.

Our fight is to defend our services and to stop Blair’s Tory agenda. We need unity, we need to stand together, and we need Dave and Candy in our union.

  • The expulsion must be raised at every level and in every possible forum in Unison and throughout the trade union movement.

    They are a real inspiration

    CANDY UDWIN has spent over 25 years fighting for the NHS. In the late 1970s she was secretary of a campaign to save the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson women’s hospital in central London.

    She has worked as a clinic receptionist at UCLH hospitals since 1980 and for over 20 years has led strikes and campaigns to stop ward closures, cuts and privatisation. Dave Carr works as a specialised nurse at UCLH, nursing people recovering from burns and plastic surgery.

    Along with Candy he has been at the forefront of the campaigns to defend the NHS and stop privatisation. Jim Fagan, the joint branch secretary of Tower Hamlets Health Care Unison in east London, says, ‘Candy and Dave have been at the heart of every important battle for health workers and to defend the NHS for many years.

    ‘In 1987 our NUPE union branches, together with three other London hospitals, linked up to launch a series of strikes led by student nurses. This action spread across London and every major city and pushed the TUC to call a national demo to protest against Tory attacks on the health service. Here in east London we are again moving towards industrial action to secure NHS pay and conditions for cleaners, porters and catering workers exploited by private contractors. As always, Candy and Dave have been a constant source of support and solidarity. It’s outrageous that they should be expelled for the crime of being serious about fighting PFI.’

    Tony Staunton, the chair of Plymouth Unison, says, ‘Candy and Dave have been an inspiration to Unison branches across the country. Their organisation of the fight at UCLH gave us the blueprint for beating back cuts and privatisation in Plymouth. Dave came down and addressed our members’ meetings. Candy told us how they had organised. Together they showed us we could take strike action, and we did, and we won! They should get national awards, not abuse. Now it’s our turn to support them.’

    ‘We are shocked and outraged’

    ‘UNISON MEMBERS at UCLH have been shocked and outraged, and some moved to tears of anger and frustration, at this attack on our branch officers. We believe it is a politically motivated and vindictive sentence.

    We had been led to believe from informal discussions that a three-year ban from office was a likely sentence. For the biggest public sector union to expel two leading branch activists for leading a strike against privatisation which won major concessions is unbelievable.

    At a time when privatisation is high on the government’s agenda and a fightback is needed more than ever, it seems that the trade union officials are more loyal to Labour than to their own membership. If Dave Prentis thinks he has tamed the beast by cutting its head off he can think again.

    We were incensed when union officials called us into a meeting last week at the TUC. Union officials faced 24 angry stewards who told them they had a nerve not to come and see us. We told them we would be launching a public campaign to reinstate Candy and Dave. We have worked alongside Candy and Dave for several years.

    They represent the best aspects of a public sector trade union, always prepared to fight the hardest for and with our members against privatisation and for the best conditions for all health service workers. In fighting for justice for Candy and Dave we will continue in the best traditions of UCLH Unison in opposing any form of attack on our members’ pay and conditions, and maintain a strong fighting union branch.’
    TERRY ALLEN (portering steward), GLENN BRANAGAN (healthcare assistant steward), PHIL HOWELLS (nurse, intensive care steward), SAM PHILPOTT (nurse at the Heart Hospital, steward), JANET MAIDEN (nurse and assistant branch secretary UCH)

    ‘THESE expulsions are a scandal at a time when we face so many other things to fight against-against privatisation, against the war, and for a living wage. The only way this expulsion can be interpreted is as a spiteful and vindictive move.

    Someone decided this was going to be a show trial and they handed out the ultimate punishment. I have had my political differences with Candy and Dave. But I’ve worked with Candy for two years since she was elected as deputy convenor of London Unison. Candy has given 100 percent and has carried great responsibility admirably in what have been difficult circumstances.

    The opposition to this deliberately spiteful move goes right across the political spectrum. I’m committed to doing everything possible to fight for the reinstatement of Candy and Dave.’
    GEOFF MARTIN, convenor London Region Unison

    ‘I WAS very shocked to hear that Candy and Dave had been expelled. It is a savage penalty, especially since there is strong doubt about the seriousness of the ‘offence’.

    I have a lot of respect for the way that Candy and Dave have fought for and organised with the members in their branch. If the expulsion cannot be rescinded then they should immediately be allowed to rejoin Unison.’
    CAROLINE BEDALE, member of Unison’s health group executive

    ‘I HAVE difficulty believing that two leading activists have been expelled for leading a fight against privatisation. Many of us in Unison thought that the witch-hunt of the left was over. Many ordinary members will be wondering, what the hell is going on? There should be a major campaign for their reinstatement.’
    KENNY BELL, deputy convenor Northern Region Unison

    All quotes in a personal capacity

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