Despite having dragged out his suspension for two years and two months, Kirklees Council are in no great hurry to wrap up the case against Unison President Paul Holmes. At the 11th hour, they announced that their final meeting with him, scheduled for this morning, was being postponed.
Unison activists will rightly see this as confirmation of what they’ve known all along: what we’re seeing here is a witch-hunt – no more, no less.
The last official hearing between Paul and Kirklees Council was over six weeks ago. By stringing out the announcement of the verdict, the employers clearly hope to play for time.
Paul’s treatment is one of the most infamous cases of trade union victimisation in recent years. Scandalously, this campaign has not only included Paul’s employer, but the officialdom of his own union acting against him.
** #DefendPaulHolmes update **#UNISON President Paul Holmes's disciplinary outcome meeting scheduled for 9am, Wednesday 12 January has been postponed by Kirklees Council. The new date is not yet confirmed. We will advise of the new date for a lobby as soon as we can. Thank you.— #TimeForRealChange (@tfrc_unison) January 11, 2022
For their part, the right wing of the union attempted a similar suspension on equally spurious grounds. This was timed to match the employers’ own action, leaving little doubt that there has been collusion between the council and the apparatus of Unison.
What has become apparent is that the union’s bureaucracy, Kirklees Council’s senior managers, and right-wing Labour councillors are working together to remove a mutual thorn in their side.
What is also clear, however, is that neither camp could then decide who should make the decisive move once Paul was suspended.
The bureaucracy hoped that the council would sack Paul, so that they could then strip him of his union membership and positions without having to formally expel him. They believed this would behead the left in the union, and allow the right to retake control more easily.
The council, meanwhile, hoped that Unison officials would expel Paul, so that they could sack him without facing significant resistance from his union branch – including potential strike action.
In the event, neither were willing to be the first to put their heads above the parapet.
Now that his union suspension is lifted, however, Paul can finally take up the position of chair at the upcoming Unison NEC meeting on 18 January. This will give the employers further pause for thought, and strengthen the campaign to support him.
There is a third prong to this attack, however, taking place in Kirklees Unison branch itself. It is reported that disgruntled elements there have put someone up to stand against Paul as secretary in the upcoming branch AGM.
To take this action at such a time is indicative of the character of Paul’s opponents within his branch. Paul has held his position as secretary for many years – positive proof of the considerable confidence that rank-and-file members have in him.
The effort to stand someone against him, therefore, is a clear attempt to capitalise on the difficulties caused by the victimisation campaign against Paul. The individuals responsible for this effort know full well that they would have no chance of getting rid of him otherwise.
We are confident that this effort will fail and that the branch will rally around Paul. Nevertheless, his supporters should take this as an opportunity to boldly demonstrate the enormous support that Paul enjoys.
The word must be put out, and the maximum possible turnout ensured. Activists must clearly explain why Paul should be voted back in, and what these attacks on him represent. This will ensure that justice is done – and that an end is put to this scheming from the sidelines.
It is clear that Kirklees Council is feeling the heat. It is hard not to see these recent developments – moving the date of this scheduled meeting – as anything other than the employers blinking first.
The battle is not yet over, however. Solidarity is still needed. The next few weeks will be vital.
If the council can successfully victimise the president of Unison, one of the country’s most powerful unions, this will be a signal to employers up and down the country that they too can target other union reps who are an irritation to them.
The labour movement must therefore offer Paul its full support, and bring its weight to bear in this case. Kirklees Council must be made to understand that all hell will break loose if they proceed with their efforts to sack him.
Unison activists should pass motions of solidarity with Paul in their branches; and activists in other unions should raise the case and explain its importance.
If it comes to it, local strike action must be placed at the top of the agenda should Kirklees Council persist in this witch-hunt.
“An injury to one is an injury to all” is one of the oldest principles of trade unionism. By backing these words up with deeds, we can put the bosses on the back foot and show the real strength of our movement.
That is what we must do in order to defend Paul Holmes and end this shameful campaign against him.