Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Union Bullies

Image result for freedom of speech + UK images

In the run up to the Scottish TUC in Glasgow in 1999 I was told that I was about to be suspended from my job as Unison's Head of Local Government in Scotland.

The people who alerted me to this threat were members of the 'press pack' in Scotland who regularly attend such events. 

My press contacts told me that I was about to be suspended for 'bringing Unison into disrepute' having days earlier resigned my membership of the Labour Party over its policy on PFI (Private Finance Initiative).

My resignation had attracted some coverage in the Scottish media because almost every senior union official in the land (at that time) was a card carrying Labour Party member, and even though my public comments were made in a personal capacity my resignation was perceived by some of my more tribal colleagues as both treacherous and disloyal.

In any event, I quickly decided not to be pushed around and so let it be known that if I were to be suspended in this way, I would respond by challenging the cowards and bullies inside the union who were briefing against me anonymously.

First of all, by holding a press conference to explore the issue of exactly whose behaviour was allegedly bringing the union into disrepute and, secondly, by 'suing' my union employer for constructive dismissal if necessary, over what I regarded as an outrageous attack on my right to freedom of speech.

As things turned out, those responsible backed off and I lived to fight another day although it's fair to say that these unpleasant events did mark the beginning of the end of my 20-year unblemished trade union career, albeit months later and on agreed terms which I negotiated myself. 

So I have considerable empathy with Gerard Coyne who, if you ask me, is now being bullied for daring to challenge Len McCluskey for the leadership of Unite and it seems unarguable to me that Coyne has been suspended, by tribal elements in the union, for the 'crime' of speaking up and telling the truth as he sees it.

Which is hugely ironic of course given the history, origins and proclaimed values of the labour movement.