by Yuri Prasad
The victory of leading trade unionist Yunus Bakhsh over his former employers at an Employment Tribunal last month continues to send shockwaves through the movement. The Newcastle-based nurse fought a four-year campaign to clear his name after being falsely accused of bullying by the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust.
The tribunal ruled that he was subjected to disability discrimination and sacked for his trade union activity. Since then, Yunus has been inundated with messages of support. “I’ve had hundreds of letters and emails congratulating me for standing firm,” he told Socialist Worker.
Kevin McHugh of the PCS union’s national executive told Socialist Worker that trade unionists in the north east of England are particularly happy that one of their best-known activists has been vindicated. He said, “The fact that Yunus has now received some justice after his campaign is a boost to everyone who is preparing to fight the coming wave of Tory cuts.”
But Kevin is among many who are angry at the way Yunus’s own union turned on him when he needed their help. Yunus was expelled from Unison after they used much of the same evidence as his employers to mount an “investigation” into his conduct – evidence the tribunal completely discredited. “The verdict of the tribunal is also a message to the leaders of national trade unions,” says Kevin. “We expect you to go all the way in defending our lay member activists when they come under attack from their employers – not join in the assault.” Other activists who have faced attacks from their own union are also encouraged by the decision.
Tony Staunton, secretary of Plymouth Trades Union Council, was also driven out of Unison. Tony said, “This victory gives renewed hope to every socialist activist in the union movement. “Union members are appalled and angered when trade union leaders side with employers against left activists. It’s time for the political witch-hunts to end.” Bernie Gallagher, who sits on Unison’s national executive, said, in a personal capacity, “Our union will be in a much stronger position to fight back against the wave of cuts our members are facing if we stand united.
“Unison general secretary Dave Prentis has rightly called for massive resistance to the government’s plans. That means more of our activists could find themselves in the frontline. “In light of the tribunal’s judgement – which raises questions over collusion between management and Unison – we need to send out a clear message that we will stand full square behind our lay activists if they come under attack from the bosses.”
David Stead, assistant secretary of the PCS’s Tyne View branch, hopes that Yunus’s victory will inspire others. “I’m very proud that my branch of the PCS has stood solidly behind Yunus, right from the start,” he said. “We got a motion to back him passed at our national conference. That we did so is a measure of the high esteem that we hold Yunus in, but also of the methods that he champions.
“Like us, Yunus wants trade unions that fight. That idea is going to be even more essential now than it has been in the past. “Three years ago my branch produced a poster with a picture of Yunus on it, headlined, ‘Trade unionism on trial – stop victimisation’.
“Now we have a new one with a copy of Socialist Worker’s article about Yunus’s victory on it. We want everyone to know that you can fight back and win.”
“We need to get to the bottom of this before we can move on as a union,” added Bernie. “If there was a conspiracy against Yunus, we need to know how high up the union it went.”