By Yuri Prasad
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2901

Why is Unison’s leadership silent on the Wilma Brown racism scandal?

Wilma Brown was Labour candidate in Scotland—and remains a senior figure in the Unison union
Issue 2901
One of the comments retweeted by Wilma Brown's personal account @WilmaBrown19

One of the comments retweeted by Wilma Brown’s personal account @WilmaBrown19

A racism scandal is tearing through the Unison union after reports that one of its most senior figures liked and shared offensive posts on Twitter/X.

Wilma Brown, the chair of the union’s health executive, is said to have endorsed posts linking Scottish first minister Humza Yousaf to Hamas—calling him “Hamas Youseless”. The same account “liked” a message that suggested that Scottish government aid to Gaza would be used to fund Hamas.

Other liked posts included criticism of a man wearing a turban saying the St George’s Cross was his flag. It was retweeted with the comment, “You’re literally Indian. It is not your flag. You will NEVER be an Englishman.”

Brown also appeared to endorse anti-trans Tweets. All of the posts were liked on her personal account @WilmaBrown19, with her candidate account @wilmabrown4lab being locked and protected and unable to be viewed by the public.

Brown was until Wednesday a Labour candidate for one of its key Westminster target seats—Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy.

Scottish Labour suspended her as soon as news of the racist tweets emerged. But shamefully there has so far been no word from Unison.

The union is a key force in the Labour Party and strongly backs its most right wing elements. As an MP, Brown was to be another well-placed link between the Unison bureaucracy and Keir Starmer’s machine.

And with her background as a nurse and health trade unionist, Starmer would have found her very useful when selling Labour’s NHS privatisation policies.

Alarm bells about Brown started ringing at this week’s Unison health conference. As chair of the health executive, she was expected to play a leading role at the meeting, shaping the union’s policy for the year ahead.

Also important for the conference was supposed to be Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting. He had on Monday written a column in the hateful Sun newspaper which talked up plans to hand the private health companies control of parts of the NHS.

Those who opposed health service privatisation were just “middle class lefties”, he sneered. He also claimed he was up for a fight with the health unions over the issue.

Fury at Brown, and the Unison leadership’s refusal to suspend her, has led many union activists to sign a letter of no confidence in her.

Addressed to the union’s general secretary, it states that the chair of the health executive “is the most senior lay member post in the health sector of Unison”.

“Racism, Islamophobia and transphobia have no place in our union, and are especially damaging in the health sector which is proudly so diverse,” it continues.  

“We no longer have any confidence in Wilma Brown as the chair of the Health Service Group Executive of Unison, nor any other union position she may hold.

“We call on her to resign and for Unison to act immediately in line with its long-stated principles of anti-racism and anti-transphobia. It is time for change at both government level and in our union.”

The letter, initiated on Wednesday, already has the signatures of over 80 Unison activists—and should be spread widely.

Unison cannot proclaim itself to be an anti-racist union, and to be fighting for equality for all working in the health services, while Brown remains in post. So Unison leaders must move quickly to remove her.

But the episode ought to provoke a wider reflection in the union about its relationship with Labour.

The party’s failure to defend Palestine, its eagerness to promote NHS privatisation, and its endorsement of racist immigration policies, all run contrary to Unison policy.

Unison leaders should stand up for the union’s principles, not those that the Starmer gang would like to impose on them.

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