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Uproar at denial of justice

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Issue 1684

Unison’s kangaroo court

Uproar at denial of justice

LEADERS OF Britain’s biggest union, UNISON, have denied any justice to two of the union’s leading health activists. Union leaders summoned two branch officials from UCLH hospitals in central London, Candy Udwin and Dave Carr, to a disciplinary hearing on Thursday of last week. The leadership have threatened to expel the two from the union for their part in the fight against New Labour’s Private Finance Initiative. Yet, outrageously union leaders did not even let Candy and Dave put their case to the hearing.

They refused to let Candy and Dave’s solicitor tape record the hearing. When this was challenged, the disciplinary panel excluded Candy, Dave and their representatives. Amazingly, the panel claimed that recording the meeting was “unbecoming”. They ordered Candy, Dave and their representatives to leave and continued the case without them. This is a denial of the most basic human rights.

The decision has more in common with the behaviour of a repressive dictatorship than it does with a supposedly democratically run trade union. Candy and Dave have been at the forefront of the defence of the NHS under both Labour and Tory governments. But UNISON leaders are trying to silence those who want to build a real fight to stop New Labour’s attacks on the NHS. The witch hunt plays directly into the hands of hospital bosses who want to ram the PFI schemes through. Last week UCLH bosses banned all union meetings on the hospitals’ premises. It is no coincidence that the PFI deal at UCLH is due to be signed this month. The witch hunt has created shockwaves through the union, including many UNISON officials and members of the national executive.

On Monday of this week the London regional council of UNISON unanimously passed a motion condemning the political witch hunt of Candy and Dave. Candy was also voted in as deputy regional convenor for the London area. There has also been an outcry among hospital staff, and among local trade unionists and campaigners. David Egmore, branch secretary of Camden council UNISON and chair of the local government service group for London, summed up the feelings of many when he spoke at a rally in support of Candy and Dave last week: “Our union leaders ought to be paying tribute to Dave and Candy’s fight against PFI, not victimising them. Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident. It is the latest in a series of efforts by certain sections of the union’s leadership to stamp out dissent. They have spent so much time and money on persecuting the union’s own acitivists. This is not what I joined a trade union for.”

  • Send messages of support to UCLH UNISON, c/o Middlesex Hospital, Mortimer Street, London W1.

CANDY UDWIN is standing as a London Socialist Alliance candidate in the elections to the Greater London Authority in May. Her New Labour opponent will be her boss-UCLH’s director of personnel Helen Gordon. Socialist film maker Ken Loach urged support for Candy in the GLA elections when he spoke in defence of Candy and Dave at a rally last week.

Sending Rodney the message

LOCAL POSTAL workers at the Rathbone Place delivery office have rallied to the support of Candy and Dave. Their Communication Workers Union branch has sent a letter to UNISON general secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe urging him to drop the charges. The branch has also donated 200 to the campaign.

As CWU rep Chris Tymkow explained, “My branch represents 1,200 postal workers at Rathbone Place, which is just 200 yards from the Middlesex Hospital. Like workers at UCLH we have a strong tradition of fighting for our members’ rights. The first people always down to support us were our colleagues from the UCLH branch. We were deeply shocked at the disciplinary case. We don’t want a row with people in UNISON. But we are sending a message to the general secretary of UNISON urging him to drop all the charges against Candy and Dave. We have a message to government ministers and union leaders veering to the right. They should get back to their roots. They should stop swanning around having meals with business types and get back to doing their job, which is protecting the terms and conditions of the workers.”

Support grows

THOSE BACKING Candy and Dave so far include Labour MP Tony Benn, socialist film director Ken Loach, RMT assistant general secretary Bob Crow, London region UNISON, Northern region UNISON, Dr Wendy Savage, UNISON NEC member Doug Wright, King’s College, UCL and SOAS UNISON branches, Camden Trades Council, Camden council local government UNISON.

Victory in Haringey

“IT’S A great success, a victory for the union.” That is how one worker in Haringey council summed up the outcome of a fight with the north London New Labour council this week. The council has backed down from major attacks on its workers’ conditions. The climbdown is a direct result of the marvellous strikes which Haringey workers staged in the run up to Christmas, and their determination to take more action if the council did not retreat. As a result of the fight, over 500 workers have joined Haringey’s UNISON union branch.

The council planned to impose 2.25 million of cuts. As part of the package it wanted to take an axe to workers’ hard won conditions, including removing several days holiday a year from all workers. Over 5,000 workers walked out on three days of strike action before Christmas. The size and mood of the action rattled the New Labour clique in the town hall. Over the last few weeks negotiations have taken place. The council decided not to risk more strikes and backed off. It has withdrawn all sacking threats, and agreed that it will abide by all national terms and conditions.

“The council thought they would get away with the attacks. But we’ve kicked them in the teeth. If we hadn’t struck there is no doubt they would have pushed these attacks through,” argued one worker this week. The local paper headline ran: “Trade Unions Celebrate Strike Success In ‘Winter Of Discontent’.” Of course the council is not giving up its hope to push attacks through. It will be back. Already it plans up to 150 redundancies across the council in the coming months. The key to beating back these attacks will be using the strength gained from the strikes and the victory workers have won.

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