5 November 2018

Suspended from UNISON for Defending Freedom of Speech and the Right of Free Assembly

Run by its Officials for its Officials  UNISON's General Secretary Dave Prentis  knowingly allowed Union resources to be used to get himself elected

One thing is certain - Prentis will certainly miss Linda Perks - who faithfully did his bidding, rules notwithstanding

On March 26th, as Labour’s local election campaign got underway, as part of the false anti-Semitism campaign against Jeremy Corbyn, various Zionist organisations organised their first ever ‘anti-racist’ demonstration, outside Parliament.  

On the recent NHS demonstration
A counter demonstration was mounted by Jewish Voice for Labour supported by Labour Against the Witchhunt (LAW) and other groups. One of the demonstrators was Stan Keable, the Secretary of LAW.

Stan got into a conversation about the Holocaust, in the course of which Stan stated that the Holocaust wasn’t only caused by anti-Semitism (a statement of the obvious – anti-Semitism has existed long before the Holocaust) and that the Zionist movement had collaborated with the Nazis in the period leading up to the Holocaust.
Mark Fischer - a Prentis loyalist who chaired the disciplinary panel
One of the wing members of the Panel
Linda Crowther - one of the wing members of the Panel - silent throughout
Unknown to Stan his conversation had secretly been recorded and before long it was placed on social media. This resulted in headlines in papers like The Standard and the Jewish Chronicle. The next day local Tory MP, Greg Hands sent out a tweet demanding action against Stan and Steve Cowan, leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, where Stan was an employee, was only too happy to oblige.
Stan was promptly suspended and in May I represented Stan at his disciplinary hearing, the result of which was that he was dismissed.  As a lay representative from Brighton and Hove I should not, have had to represent Stan but when Stan approached UNISON’s London Regional Organiser, Steve Terry for support he received none.
Maggie Ferncombe - London Regional Secretary and a fitting successor to Linda Perks
Terry’s advice was that Stan should plead guilty.  In a letter of May 8th Terry advised Stan that:
‘the course that you should take is to indicate that you regret any offence caused by your remarks and plead mitigating circumstances.’
A supporter of Progress, Terry should have declared a conflict of interest between his right-wing views and those of Stan Keable. His own prejudices rendered him incapable of seeing that there was only one issue, namely freedom of speech and the right of free assembly of workers. Rights guaranteed under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Terry however is a typical UNISON bureaucrat, completely incapable of comprehending such issues. 
On the recent NHS demonstration in Brighton
The two main charges laid against Stan were:
1.        That, in attending a counter demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament on the 26th March 2018, you knowingly increased the possibility of being challenged about your views and subsequently proceeded to express views that were in breach of the Council’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy and the Council’s Code of Conduct (‘Working with integrity’ and ‘Working with the media’).
2.        That you made inappropriate comments which were subsequently circulated on social media which are deemed to be insensitive and likely to be offensive and potentially in breach of the Equality Act 2010 and/or the Council’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy.
Steve Terry could find nothing wrong in disciplining workers for expressing their views.
It takes something for Jon Lansman's blog to accuse someone of ballot rigging!
Clearly these charges were a threat to all workers. The idea that by ‘causing offence’ Stan was guilty of a disciplinary offence is outrageous.  The right to free speech is meaningless if all you have the right to do is to utter platitudes. Giving offence is integral to freedom of speech unless you are inciting people to racial or other forms of hatred (i.e. hurting or insulting someone on the basis of an unalterable characteristic (age, disability etc.). Stan was doing none of these things. He was criticising Zionism. See
picket outside UNISON Executive protesting at the attempt to rig the General Secretary election
picket of UNISON's Executive  meeting

Of course Terry was unconcerned by such matters. It is doubtful that anything bar the size of his remuneration is of any interest to him. It was not surprising that Terry, who is not used to criticism from members, complained to his boss, Maggie Ferncombe, the London Regional Secretary with whom I have crossed swords when she was the South-East Regional Secretary.
On June 4th I was called to an investigation hearing conducted by 2 more officials, Gail Adams and Tony Jones, who is himself a Labour councillor in Reading! I have already published the interview and you can read the whole interview here or you can listen to the tape of the interview  here. Suffice to say that the outcome of the investigation was as I predicted.  I was charged on 3 counts:
My defence, that the principle conceded by UNISON in the case of Stan Keable was going to be used by other Councils to attack the rights of other workers has come to pass. Paul Jonson, an anti-social officer for Dudley Council has just been suspended for attending a picket outside right-wing Labour MP Ian Austen’s office and putting a post on Facebook which described Israel as a ‘racist endeavour.’
On Monday 8th October I was called to a disciplinary hearing to face 3 charges.
i.              That I had engaged in disrespectful or intimidating behaviour, or had exposed Steve Terry to didicule, embarrassment or contempt and I had violated his dignity.
ii.            That I hadn’t maintained strict confidentiality over the kangaroo court procedures adopted against me.
iii.         That I had broken, disobeyed etc. union rules.

Those hearing my case –Chair Mark Fischer, Linda Crowther and Maggie Cook of the National Executive Council, were clearly not happy with the fact that I had secretly recorded the investigation hearing. Union bureaucrats and their servants are always happiest when they can operate in the dark so the first thing that happened when we began was that everyone had to place their phone in a tray which was placed out side the room. Unfortunately this trick doesn’t appear to have worked as my phone had no difficulty picking up what took place and the transcript can be seen here!
Presenting officer Gail Adams CBE was most offended by my suggestion that the hearing was a ‘stitch-up’. She emphasised that if I had argued that someone else had put my blog post up or had had access to my blog then she would have been more than willing to acquite me of the charges.
However Gail entirely missed the point. It was not that I denied what I had said but that I justified it as being necessary in the circumstances.  The real crime in this case was not what I had written about that miserable union bureaucrat Steve Terry but what he had done to a union member.
I demonstrated beyond all doubt that there is no redress for union members when they are sold out and betrayed by the union leadership. Back came the parroted response that I had broken ‘the rules’ by subjecting Terry to ridicule, contempt etc.  I have to say that I have no respect for someone who is willing to sacrifice a union member’s right to free speech for the sake of the ‘rules’.  To me Terry is contemptible. Certainly I had not intimidated him, how could I? By speaking on the phone?  But then the charge is that I may have exposed Terry to ‘ridicule, embarrassment or contempt.’  If the truth be told then it is indeed ridiculous to behave as Terry did. Terry unfortunately shows no signs of being embarrassed and as for contempt, surely that is the proper reaction to a union official and Labour councillor who betrays his membership?   As for violating the dignity of Terry, well that assumes he had any to begin with.
The actual complaint was made by  Maggie Ferncombe, the London Regional Secretary who I had an encounter with when she fulfilled the same role in the South East. Clearly this presented me with a problem since the person who I had allegedly affronted, Steve Terry, was not available for cross-examination. This is the basis of part of my appeal, I had apparently humiliated etc. someone who is not giving evidence and is unavailable.  The relevant part of the cross-examination is below, although you can look at the full transcript here:
Just imagine, in a court of law, you are accused of insulting, intimidating etc. someone and then that person doesn’t give evidence but someone who talked to him does. This is UNISON’s idea of justice. As you can see I made Maggie Ferncombe, the London Regional Secretary and a fitting successor to Linda Perks (see below). In essence she knew nothing.
TG: [54:00] You made the complaint about me?
MF: I did
TG: ... and yet the obvious thing would have been for him to have made the complaint. Would it not?
MF: I can’t speak for Steve.
TG: But you spoke to him.
MF: I can’t speak for Steve whether it’s obvious or not for him to make a complaint. What I can say is that Steve raised it with me because of the subject matter. He believed that it was an issue that I needed to be aware of, that there was a potential, most regional organisers will come to me if they think there’s an issue that the press may or may not be interested in, because we must be prepared to have a response. He raised it with me and I then read your blog and once I had read your blog that is when I decided I would make a complaint.
TG: Can you enlighten us as to why he did not make a complaint?
MF: I don’t know.
TG: You spoke to him but you have no idea why, you did not ask him?
MF: No.
TG: You weren’t interested?
MF: No.
TG: You did not invite him to make a complaint?
MF: No
TG: You did not think it was necessary for him to make a complaint?
MF: I think that was down to the member of staff (TG: clearly) I took my responsibilities as a senior manager of the region to determine that I didn’t think this was appropriate, I thought it was outside of our norms fact
TG: I realise that
MF: and I took the decision to make the complaint. And in fact I informed Steve that I had made the complaint.
TG: But Steve had the right to make the complaint if he was aggrieved. Did he not?
MF: All members of staff have the right to make a complaint.
TG: So you have no idea, on the basis of your relationship with him, why he chose not to make a complaint?
MF: (after some considerable delay) I can only say that it is highly highly unusual in my experience for a member of staff to make a complaint about a member.
TG: Well maybe this case is maybe highly unusual so it wouldn’t be exceptional?
MF: I can’t speak for Steve.
TG: What was the nature of your conversation with ST?
MF: I just explained that he said that there was an issue that was happening in that particular branch, regarding a member and that he was going to be advising and that he thought that I needed to be aware of it on the basis that it might attract interest from the press and therefore we might be contacted as have most other of my regional organisers over the years when there has been an issue going on with a member of the branch that the press might be interested in. So that we were prepared.
TG: The charges against me today are ... that I was disrespectful, intimidating, I exposed him to ridicule, embarrassment and contempt and it violated his dignity. If we go through those. Did he say that I disrespected him?
MF: I did not have a great deal of conversation regarding how Steve felt regarding the blog at all.
TG: So you weren’t curious as to how he felt?
MF: Steve didn’t offer how he felt when I had a conversation with him. Steve offered that there was an issue I needed to be aware of in one of our branches that I would need to be prepared for should the media decide to
TG: Sorry he didn’t come to you and say ‘I’m feeling intimidated as a result of the behaviour of Mr Greenstein?’
MF: No.
TG: Did he say that he felt ridiculed or embarrassed or felt that I held him in contempt?
MF: No.
TG: Did he say that I had violated his dignity?
MF: No.
TG: So would you agree that these charges are entirely speculative? That they have no basis or foundation and are not the subject of an allegation.
MF: No, I don’t agree with that.
TG: But nonetheless he did not make any complaint as to this nature did he?
MF: No but the charges talk about conduct which may and I believe your conduct
TG: So it may have exposed him but there is no evidence to suggest that it did expose him
MF: Well I haven’t really done an investigation into what...
The Chair, Mark Fischer, who is part of the Prentis right-wing of the union, was not happy with my cross-examination. This favourite phrase was ‘Let’s stick to the facts.’ On one occasion I was forced to respond that:
TG:  Well I’m giving you the facts. You may not like them but I can’t give you any others!

Appendix 2 of the UNISON rule book has been written with the express purpose of protecting unelected union officials from their own members.  As I repeatedly emphasised during the hearing there is no redress or accountability of union officials and that is the real crime in this case but of course no charges were ever brought or contemplated being brought against Terry because the whole process was in the hands of UNISON officials.
What my case demonstrates is the democratic deficit in UNISON.   UNISON is not a left-wing union. In the past 8 years, at a time of massive cuts in local government, it has failed to defend its members’ jobs, conditions or pay. Indeed the union officials have fought against any attempts to take action. Prentis is infamous for his lack of a backbone.
Despite the fact that UNISON has good policy on Palestine and supports BDS it has also supported the false ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign. 
It is ironic that the Executive Officer who was responsible for my case was Beth Bickerstaffe, the daughter-in-law of a previous General Secretary, the late Rodney Bickerstaffe and before you ask I am sure that the appointment process was open, transparent and fair! The irony lies in the fact that Rodney Bickerstaffe, who was a supporter of Palestine, when he spoke at a PSC AGM attacked the use of false accusations of anti-Semitism against supporters of Palestine.  This understanding seems to have disappeared from his successors..
That is what the actions of Terry are about.  He is a fulsome supporter of the idea that support for the Palestinians is ‘anti-Semitic’ and in particular criticism of Zionism. That is why Stan was abandoned and that is why I was subject to a bogus ‘investigation’ the outcome of which was inevitable.
I was also charged with a breach of confidentiality and although I was technically guilty I argued that in order to bring the greater crime, Terry’s treachery, to light it was necessary to publicise his crimes. However in the eyes of my accusers this defence carried no weight.
I made it clear that in the event of being found guilty, I had no intention of pleading mitigation as I had done nothing wrong. I was sentenced to the maximum possible punishment (bar expulsion) which was 3 years suspension with loss of membership rights.
When UNISON Officials Broke UNISON’s Election Rules
A fitting farewell to the ever loyal Linda Perks
As London Regional Secretary Linda Perks was Dave Prentis's Fixer - Union rulers were there to be broken
Compare this case with the breaking rules which occurred during the 2015 election for a General Secretary. The culprit was the London Regional Secretary for Linda Perks. Perks held a briefing, of which this is a recording for Regional Organisers at UNISON’s Greater London Regional Office. Those attending were paid UNISON staff, attending in work time.
In clear contravention of the election procedures, which instruct staff that they should not in work time “carry out any activities intended or likely to … …affect the election or candidature of any person“, Perks gave detailed instructions to staff about campaigning for Prentis. She made it clear that she was speaking as a manager to staff by repeatedly referring them to Regional Managers.
“You clearly cannot be caught out saying ‘vote for Dave'” she says, and warns staff to be careful that, if there are witnesses to conversations in which they are lobbying for Dave Prentis to be sure that they are “friendly witnesses.” She names the official in whose (UNISON) office Dave Prentis’ election leaflets will be kept but advises staff not to mention this by email.
This was unequivocal evidence of the most blatant disregard for UNISON Rules on the part of the Greater London Regional Office. Paid officials joke about using the name of the Regional Convenor to justify distributing election leaflets for Dave Prentis – and about how to distract branches which they describe as “the opposition.” This is the same office that I came into conflict with.

The case eventually wound up with the Union Certification Officer who confirmed that Unison broke the election rules. See for example

Rogue Unison Regional Secretary breaking UNISON Rules in election-rigging scandal

The implications of the Certification Officer decision in UNISON's Greater London Region Jon Rogers

In her ruling the Assistant Certification Officer, Mary Stacey, found:
3.       ‘that the Union breached paragraph 51 of the General Secretary 2015 Election Procedures ("the Election Procedures")  in that the Union's funds, property and resources were impermissibly used to campaign for a particular candidate (Mr Dave Prentis) by reason of the following matters
(2)     At a meeting of all Greater London Regional Staff held at Congress House at 2pm 21 October 2015, during work time the Regional Secretary of the London Region openly campaigned for Mr Prentis re-election for General Secretary and directed her staff to campaign for Mr Prentis during working time, and was assisted and supported by her Regional Management Team.
109    the impermissible use of UNISON resources by Ms Perks by using a workplace meeting during work time to promote Mr Prentis as a candidate and belittle all the others, and constitutes campaigning.
138. In summary, the meeting was used by the Regional Secretary, openly during work time and with the support of her RMT to campaign for Mr Prentis' re-election. She instructed her staff also to campaign for Mr Prentis in defiance of the election Procedures and directed them to report to their line manager within her RMT
139. It is apparent from the transcript that Ms Perks knew that she was breaching UNISON rules in the meeting and seeking to enlist the collusion of her staff.
143. It is clear that leaflets in support of Mr Prentis were to be covertly stored at the Greater London Regional office in breach of the Election Procedures. Ms Perks repeatedly tells her staff not to leave an email trail about using the Greater London Regional office as a distribution hub for the leaflets:
145. In response to a question Ms Perks tells her staff that they should tell the members to lie about having received campaign material in support of Mr Prentis from full time officers and instead: "They got them from the regional convener is all
.you need to tell them, they got them from the regional convener or the regional convener team is perfectly fine" she said. It would have been a lie as the Greater London Regional staff are not regional conveners
154. No matter how many times one re-reads the transcript, the shock does not diminish. It is flagrant: Ms Perks' tone is not just confident and swaggering in so openly breaking the rules, but chilling in its brazenness and demonstration of unchecked power.
Linda Perks was suspended as it was an obvious and deliberate breach of the union’s election rules. It is difficult to think of a case that was more deserving of summary dismissal than this one. Perks was found however given a final warning. As Ms Stacey found:
213. On the conclusion of the internal disciplinary process she was given a final written warning and received a disciplinary transfer away from the Greater London Region. At the time of the hearing the Applicants had assumed that having been compulsorily moved away from the Greater London Region she would now be based in another part of the country. It emerged during the hearing that she had moved to the Union's newly refurbished head office approximately 1/2 mile from the London Regional Office retaining her grade and status. There was no evidence as to her job title or job description at the hearing. After the hearing both sides supplied further information. Normally evidence submitted after the hearing would not be admitted, but since all sides seemed keen for the ACO to have a complete picture and the evidence is not disputed, I record that Ms Perks now has the title of National Secretary and is engaged on "strategic projects."
In other words the disciplinary process was carried out with a nod and a wink. What obviously happened was that Linda Perks agreed to a disciplinary process whereby it was guaranteed that she would not be dismissed and nor would she suffer any financial or other penalty. She was moved out of the Greater London Region, half the mile down the road. This is the contempt union rules are held in when those who make them break them.
Initially the Union’s officials and Prentis even denied that the tape recording of the meeting was genuine. They alleged it had been ‘tampered with’. As the Mary Stacey found:
218. On the same day (11.1.16.) the Union's President and Vice President issued an email with a wide distribution to the NEC....
"Dear Colleague,
As you know a number of serious allegations have been made against our union in London. The complaints are being investigated.
Whilst it is not our practice to comment on an ongoing investigation on this occasion we believe there is one aspect that warrants public disclosure. This can be done without compromising the rights of those involved in this matter. The complaint presented by Jon Rogers relies heavily on an anonymous recording. Given the seriousness of this tape the union commissioned independent forensic expert report of the full recording. The Presidential team and the Trustees of the union now have the full report from the Audio Forensic Service.
The forensic analysis was undertaken by an accredited audio specialist and the company is used by the High Court for audio evidence. The report clearly states that "the probability of tampering is exceptionally high". On a scale of 1(low) to 5 (high), the Independent Expert rates the tape as 5/5.
219. This is quite an extraordinary email, especially given that UNISON accept the legitimacy of the tape. In his evidence Mr McKenzie said he did not know about the forensic analysis. If it indeed exists" it was not passed to the Investigating Officer, contrary to the assertion in the email. It begs so many questions: Does this report exist? If so, where is it? Why wasn't it given to'Mr McKenzie if it so conclusively demonstrated that the tape was some kind of fake? Why didn't Mr McKenzie mention it in his report or ask to see it when he must have known about it and received the President's email? Why send the email? Mr McKenzie was clear in his evidence that he had always found the tape persuasive and the Union has conceded its accuracy and authenticity.
220. The President's email is thus a classic example of an attempt by the victors to write the history (regardless of accuracy) and denigrate those whom they see as their vanquished adversaries.
Unfortunately Ms Stacey went on to find that because there was no proof that similar behaviour had occurred outside London, the result should stand. This was an amazing position to take.  If there has been a flagrant breach of election rules in one part of the country then that should have resulted in an inexorable inference that the whole election was corrupt. It is certain that Prentis had other union officials doing the same around the country. The fact that no other tape recordings surfaced is immaterial. As Stacey found:
226. ... there was no specific evidence to find that abuses such as occurred in the Greater London Region were occurring in other parts of the country. Witnesses and evidence has not been presented to me to make such primary findings.
Stacey’s finding over the ‘penalty’ that Perks suffered is damning and shows the utter cynicism of UNISON’s officials when those breaching the rules happen to be those in control of the union.
257. ...the disciplinary sanction applied to the Greater London Regional Secretary for her actions ... is revealing. She has remained an employee at the same pay, seniority and level, moving to an office approximately half a mile from her previous office. Although she has received a final written warning, ... she remains a very senior employee enjoying all the fruits of high office and long service based in the Union's prestigious Head Office working on undefined "strategic" projects. Remarkable clemency and lenience in the circumstances and perhaps not a deterrent penalty to decourager les autres.
295. The subsequent leisurely disciplinary proceedings of Ms Perks and outcome do not inspire confidence or serve as a deterrent to future over zealous paid officials. Some might think the move to National Secretary in Head Office on unspecified strategic projects retaining all pay and benefits represents reward rather than punishment, although she has also endured the imposition of a final written warning
There is a good account of what happened in respect of Perks in the 853 Blog which serves Greenwich and the surrounding area. Greenwich Labour candidate selected despite being condemned by judge. In September Perks retired from her position in UNISON. At her retirement function Dave Prentis spoke about the debt that he felt to her: “Absolutely packed house to thank Linda Perks, one of our longest serving regional secretaries. We will all miss her” For once Prentis was telling the truth.  He will certainly miss his faithful Perks.
For previous posts on this case see:

What is UNISON for if it doesn't defend its own members? Stan Keable - abandoned by Steve Terry, the union’s London Regional Officer

Stan Keable - Suspended for Expressing his Opinion on Zionism - Welcome to Stephen Cowan's Thought Police in Hammersmith & Fulham Council

Letter of Suspension

Unison’s Shameful Betrayal of its members – it supports the right to dismiss a worker for attending a demonstration

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