A leading Hackney trade unionist has been banned from holding office in his union for five years in a row over an allegedly “racist” leaflet he helped produce.
Brian Debus, chair of the Hackney branch of the public sector union Unison, and three other Unison activists came under investigation after the leaflet was circulated at the union’s 2007 conference.
The activists were accused of attacking “the integrity of the members of the Standing Orders Committee” for questioning the removal of key motions from the conference agenda.
The leaflet, endorsed by four Unison branches and illustrated with “three wise monkeys” covering their eyes, ears and mouths, was deemed to be “racially offensive to members” – a charge which the activists strongly deny.
The four were found guilty of disciplinary charges. Debus was also found guilty of misappropriation of branch funds due to his role in arranging the production of the leaflet.
They claim to have been subjected to a witch-hunt by the Unison leadership as a result of their Socialist Party membership. Charges were dropped against a fifth activist, Matthew Waterfall, who is not a member of the Socialist Party.
Jane Holgate, secretary of Hackney Trades Union Council, said: “The fact that four Socialist Party members were associated with [the flyer] gave an opportunity to members of the bureaucracy to further an ongoing campaign against socialists in the union.”
Supporters argue that Debus has been targeted because of his attempts to sever local Unison ties with the Labour Party and that the members he represents will be denied the support of one of the most experienced trade unionists in Hackney.
However, a spokeswoman for Unison said: “A National Executive Council panel found these members breached several Unison rules, which require that members, activists, representatives and staff, are treated with dignity and respect at all times when participating in the union’s democratic structures.”
Debus has appealed against Unison’s decision to expel him. The appeal will be heard over the coming months and is likely to be concluded by mid-January, according to Unison. He has also taken his case to an employment tribunal which is due to take place in December.