By Nick Clark
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2790

Unison union president Paul Holmes sacked by council bosses

Holmes has been failed by the Unison leadership
Issue 2790
Unison activists with two banners from Birmingham branch and Calderdale trades council

Outside Paul Holmes’ hearing on Wednesday (Pic: Martin Jones)

Bosses at Kirklees council have sacked the Unison union’s national president Paul Holmes. The sacking—the end of a sustained victimisation campaign—is an attack on every trade unionist.

Paul’s sacking comes after council bosses suspended him in December 2019—more than two years ago—over “serious and confidential” accusations. As branch secretary of Kirklees Unison for 32 years, he had led strong strikes and campaigns—most recently by refuse workers over bullying and racism.

His supporters at a rally outside his final hearing and online on Wednesday said it was a clear case of victimisation. Helen Davies from Barnet Unison described how in Kirklees, “cuts are being made to vital services, and yet this council is choosing to spend thousands and thousands of pounds to victimise a trade union rep whose crime has been to stand up against bullying of refuse workers for years.”

Bernie Gallagher, a retired council worker and Unison activist who also faced victimisation said, “I’ve been a trade union member all my life and I know that Paul has been a fantastic trade unionist.

“Paul has been victimised because he’s so effective. We need people like Paul in all our branches because we need fighting unions.”

And Labour MP John McDonnell said, “This is an attempt to take out of action one of the finest representatives of this union we’ve ever had. We’re not going to stand by and allow any employer to target and victimise one of our reps.”

Other activists were angry that Unison’s national leadership had failed to support Paul—and at times appeared to coordinate with his council’s bosses.

 

Paul Holmes looking resolute

Paul Holmes has led many struggles

Paul is a leading left wing activist who has fought to turn Unison into a union that leads more strikes and fightbacks in defence of its members. Unison also suspended him at the same time he was targeted by bosses in 2019.

Yet Unison members still elected him the union’s national president in June last year. He and others from the Time for Real Change group—which wants to make Unison a more fighting union—took a majority on Unison’s national executive council.

Unison reinstated Paul in November last year—but still gave him no support. Now his supporters fear Unison officials could try to remove him as president as he’s no longer employed by Kirklees council.

Tower Hamlets branch secretary John McLoughlin demanded that Unison defends its president. “If the president of our union can be removed in this way, what does it say to every other rep in our union?” he said.

A statement on behalf of Paul promised that he “will not let this issue rest.” It said, “He could have retired with 48 years’ service, but he is determined to clear his name and let everyone know the real reasons behind his dismissal. The whole trade union movement needs to show solidarity with Paul.”

The best way to keep fighting would be to go beyond legal challenges and appeals—and link Paul’s campaign for reinstatement to fightbacks he and his supporters want to build among Unison members.

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