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Peter Hadden

Northern Ireland

UNISON union expels socialist activist

Re-instate Pat Lawlor!

(October 2008)

From The Socialist, October 2008.
Copied with thanks from
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The leadership of Unison have just trampled on the democratic rights of every member of that union and indeed of trade union members generally.

A specially established sub committee of the union’s National Executive met in Belfast at the start of October and decided to expel the nurse’s convenor in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, Pat Lawlor.

Pat, who is also a prominent member of the Socialist Party, stood accused of sending a message of support to NIPSA union classroom assistants during their strike, twelve months ago. In this message, Pat criticised the local leadership of Unison, for their failure to organise similar strike action by classroom assistants who were members of Unison.

When the local Unison leaders threatened Pat with disciplinary action for the “crime” of offering support to other workers in dispute, Pat organised a campaign to inform other Unison members of what was taking place.

Incredibly, the fact that he issued leaflets to his workmates was used as further grounds to justify his expulsion. A new charge was added – that he dared campaign to defend himself, and this became part of the grounds of his expulsion.

Unison members, and members of other unions, will be rightly outraged that, instead of concentrating their energies on defending the wages and conditions of members, the right wing union leaders, at both local and national level, are instead spending their time organising witchhunts against shop stewards.

The same leaders who took this decision have been responsible for foisting a rotten and deeply unpopular three year pay deal – in effect a pay cut – on health workers. Just days before they expelled Pat Lawlor, they sold out the struggle of local government workers on pay (see article below).

Unison’s right wing leaders are petrified that an opposition could develop that could successfully challenge them over betrayals such as this. They want to try to behead such a challenge before it becomes a greater threat by expelling those they think would be capable of leading it.

This is the real reason for Pat Lawlor’s expulsion. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the trumped up charges that were presented at the hearing. It was because Pat is an effective shop steward, with a real base of support, and because he is a member of the Socialist Party, that he was expelled.

This is confirmed by emails and other material produced by right wing members of the RVH Unison branch that were sanctioned by Unison officials, and by material produced at the expulsion hearing, that referred to the Socialist Party and to Pat’s membership of it.

This is a political witchhunt and, as such, is an attack on the right of any Unison member to hold political views – or any other views – that are different from those of the Unison leadership.

It is no coincidence that four other Socialist Party members in Britain are also up for expulsion on similarly trumped up charges. In their case they are accused of circulating a leaflet at a Unison conference with a cartoon that lampooned the union’s rightwing leaders. In other words they are accused of – satire!

Pat will be appealing the expulsion decision. We call on Unison members – and members of other trade unions – to bombard the Unison leadership with messages of support for Pat and with the demand that this decision be reversed.

Unison leaders in Northern Ireland like to present themselves as champions of equality. All their talk about opposing discrimination can now be seen as pure hypocrisy, as they have just discriminated against one of their members on political grounds, because of his membership of the Socialist Party. Pat will immediately be taking a case under the Fair Employment legislation, to expose them on this.

Union members should be the people who elect or, if they want, who remove shop stewards. Pat was elected by the members of Unison in the RVH who have made clear they want him to stay. He has been removed by a decision sponsored by unelected bureaucrats. This decision must immediately be reversed in the interests of democracy in the whole trade union movement.

Local government pay struggle abandoned

After involving more than one million local government workers across Northern Ireland, England and Wales in a two-day strike during the summer, the leadership of Unite, Unison and GMB unions have called off all future action and have proposed referring the issue to binding arbitration.

To many, the “fighting” speeches from well-paid union officials at strike rallies have turned out to be just hot air.

New Labour must be relieved that they can count on the spinelessness of these union “leaders”. Local government workers in Scotland have shown that action can make the employers shift ground. 150,000 members of Unite, GMB and Unison followed up their strike in August by returning to the picket lines in strength on 24 September.

After the August strike, the employers were forced to retreat on changing the pay offer over three years to one year. As we go to press, details are emerging of a new offer of 3.5%, but spread over two years. This is still completely unacceptable and now needs to be met with a programme of escalating strike action involving all local government workers in Scotland.

In Northern Ireland, Wales and England, local government workers should protest against the decision of their leaders to throw in the towel. If the union leaderships fail to give a fighting lead, activists in Unite, GMB and Unison need to prepare now to exert massive pressure for a real struggle on pay next year.

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