Kavanagh's shameful letter

Force the union to act in defence of Abdul Omer Mohsin, urges AJ Byrne

This is the text of the letter written by a Unite union bureaucrat to sacked bus driver and union activist Abdul Omer Mohsin, as posted on the internet by Brent TUC:

July 8 2011

Dear Omer

I hope you are keeping well.

It has been brought to my attention that you have paid no union subscriptions since December 2010 and are currently therefore in arrears of £228.82.

You will be aware that Unite has taken a decision to support your claim to a tribunal in spite of advice received by our lawyers about the poor prospect of a successful outcome and even of the danger of costs being awarded in the event of losing.

Unite has paid substantial amounts of money to you in terms of hardship.

You will be aware that you need to maintain your membership position if you wish the union to act on your behalf. Will you please therefore make arrangements, without delay, to forward your backdated subscriptions to the membership register department, Unite the Union, 218 Green Lanes, Finsbury Park, London N4 2HB. You will also need to make immediate arrangements to recommence your membership if you wish us to continue to support you.

Yours sincerely
Peter Kavanagh
regional secretary (acting)

This is surely one of the most spiteful and vindictive letters ever written by a trade union official to a victimised member. It is a complete fraud, full of so many distortions, half-truths and dissimulations that its message amounts to a total lie about what has happen to Socialist Workers Party member Omer.

It was obviously sent in response to the Facebook posting on Gerry Downing’s site of my article, ‘The hounding of Abdul Omer Mohsin by Unite the Union’ at 12.35pm on the day the letter was written (a version of this article appeared in the Weekly Worker on July 14). It contained the following sentence: “Anyway, it seems that other union rules were ignored: Omer should have been written to, to inform him of the arrears before expulsion.”

Let us analyse Kavanagh’s shameful letter in some detail:

“I hope you are keeping well.”

We might conclude from the tone of this letter that he was hoping to produce the exact opposite state of health. It was clearly written to increase the psychological pressure on Omer. The Facebook post had detailed his very fragile state - he had collapsed twice just over a week previously, after he had been given the bum’s rush by one S Higgins, the appallingly brutal bureaucratic stand-in chair of the regional industrial sector committee meeting at Chelmsford on June 29.

Omer had previously written to Kavanagh informing him that he was suffering acute stress because of the prolonged investigation by the acting regional secretary into his branch over payments made to Omer and the subsequent withholding of monies collected for him using this excuse. This was a delaying tactic which produced nothing at all, except to defer by several months the union’s ‘support’ for Omer.

If the intention of the letter was to push Omer over the top yet again, it had the desired effect. Omer suffered another panic attack, accompanied by racing heart beat and an ambulance had to be called.

“It has been brought to my attention that you have paid no union subscriptions since December 2010 and are currently therefore in arrears of £228.82.”

As Kavanagh was the central Unite figure dealing with Omer’s sacking, he was aware of when he got sacked and that he had been unemployed ever since, so should have been on unemployed rates. When Omer enquired of the membership register department, he was told he owed £16.00, not £228.82.

The Facebook post had commented: “The ignorant bureaucrat [who we now know was S Higgins] refused to sign the expenses sheet, saying Omer was not a union member and should not even be at the [Chelmsford] meeting, as he had not paid his union dues since he was sacked - what back-stabber went to the trouble to dig that out?” Now we know who that back-stabber was who verbally informed/instructed Higgins to do the dirty on Omer. However, he was so anxious to dump on Omer that he forget to enquire what the records actually showed; or did Omer not ‘officially’ inform them of his sacking, so Unite did not know?

“You will be aware that Unite has taken a decision to support your claim to a tribunal in spite of advice received by our lawyers about the poor prospect of a successful outcome and even of the danger of costs being awarded in the event of losing.”

During Christmas 2010 retired Unison member John Tymon, who had been shop steward, housing convenor, branch secretary and finally president of local government union Nalgo in Brent, met Omer and discussed his case. Tymon wrote to Unite members and other trade unionists involved with the case: “I have just made a social call to Omer and I was shocked and disgusted at the way his case is going.” Although Thompsons Solicitors had been given the case, Tymon discovered that the most basic work had not been done. Thompsons’ Ellie Reeves was appointed, but not provided with the most basic information, so that prospects could not be assessed.

Tymon found Abdul Omer in very low spirits. He had tragically lost his only daughter only months previously, he had no money, had not eaten properly for days, was at risk of losing his home and whatever sleep he grabbed was in an armchair between cups of coffee. He felt deeply hurt by the fact that those he had supported for so long had deserted him.

Tymon spent the next three months with Omer doing what Unite officers were being paid to do, but had grossly and wilfully neglected. He even had to chase up Unite officials. He listed the witnesses, obtained statements from them and typed them up. They recalled detailed accounts of several meetings and events, which he then sent to Thompsons, who were now seeing the full horrors of Abdul Omer’s case for the first time. He arranged meetings for himself and Abdul with the solicitors and finally met counsel.

After three months of hard work they briefed the barrister appointed by Thompsons to assess the case on February 18 2011. This was the first proper legal assessment of Abdul Omer’s case. Having read all the information, the barrister was convinced that the case was a winner, but was worried that the long delay might have weakened the case for reinstatement. So we are entitled to ask which lawyers gave Kavanagh the advice which contradicts the barrister’s opinion and what the details are.

Tymon comments: “... any organisation, whether trade union or other organisation representing workers, that will stand idly by and fail to defend the very best of its fighters, particularly when they are framed up, as is the case with Abdul Omer, cannot lay claim to represent workers, and must be picketed and pilloried, until they are forced to stand up and fight. Otherwise our task must be to rid Unite of such cowards.”

When Omer was sacked on March 30 2010, Unite immediately applied for interim relief - ie, protection of earnings, which the bus company, Sovereign, would have to pay - but they withdrew the application soon after. This was obviously done following advice from those dealing with Omer’s case, the regional industrial organiser (RIO), Wayne King, and Peter Kavanagh. These two had organised the annulment of the parity agreement of the Sovereign drivers with London United which Omer had negotiated and which would have resulted in a hike of £4,000 per annum for this workforce, one of the lowest paid in London. Omer discovered the process for annulment was already in train when he went to clear his locker following the loss of his appeal.

This is in contrast to the actions of the RMT, which pressed for and won interim relief from London Underground for its two sacked union activists, Arwyn Thomas and Eamonn Lynch. The Evening Standard reported: “Employment tribunals ruled that Arwyn Thomas and Eamonn Lynch, both from south London, should be paid their £45,000 salary until full hearings take place” (May 4). This judgement obviously helped to win the employment tribunal later. But the RIO, Wayne King, insisted that the evidence relating to trade union activity should not be part of Omer’s defence in his disciplinary hearing or appeal. By extension he argued it therefore should not be part of the employment tribunal case either. According to King, it would harm the chances of victory in the tribunal if the union won protection of earnings.

John Tymon’s intervention thwarted that plan. The barrister confirmed that the withdrawal of Unite’s claim for interim relief and delaying tactics in securing industrial action harmed the chances of victory, as it seemed to indicate that the union did not believe it could win. As is shown by Kavanagh’s letter and the union’s actions, Unite does not want him to win reinstatement either via a tribunal or through industrial action and have put every obstacle in his path to prevent him doing so.

As to the threat of costs being awarded against Unite, according to Emplaw.co.uk, “An award of costs is especially likely if the tribunal considers that ‘the party in bringing the proceedings, or he or his representative in conducting the proceedings, acted vexatiously, abusively, disruptively or otherwise unreasonably, or that the bringing or conducting of proceedings was misconceived’ (at one time the power to award costs arose only where conduct was ‘frivolous or vexatious’, but over the years it has been gradually, but considerably, widened to get to the current position)” (www.emplaw.co.uk/lawguide?startpage=data/2004rule38.htm).

But Kavanagh believed he had manoeuvred matters to such an extent that Omer’s whole case, based on the previous history of victimisation because of union activity, would be ignored. All the evidence of company manoeuvres and the whole reasons behind the sackings would not be examined, the union would surreptitiously convey to the tribunal its desired outcome and a rightwing judge would obligingly concur. The lawyers and barrister would be misinformed and so be unable to put Omer’s case in full. But Tymon’s intervention has scuppered this plan, although Kavanagh does not seem to be aware of this.

“Unite has paid substantial amounts of money to you in terms of hardship.”

Up to when Omer came to the London Grass Roots Left meeting on Monday July 11 he had received just £3,000 from Unite, but all monies had dried up from all sources by then, which is why the possession order was issued against him for non-payment of his mortgage.

In fact Unite did no more than issue an appeal to branches to help Omer and then the London and South East region pledged to match any funds raised from its branches. The bulk of the £3,000 was collected in Scotland and the Midlands by SWP members and other left individuals on the strength of the official appeal. Less than £500 was raised from branches in his own region, so that was all that Unite matched from central funds.

However, Unite had no shortage of funds when it came to looking after one of its own treacherous bureaucrats. The Dear Unite website and a subsequent Guardian article shows where the true interests of the union leaders lie - in defending their own privileges: “It’s just been revealed than ex-general secretary [Derek] Simpson was paid £510,659 last year. This was made up of £361,347 in severance pay, £97,677 in gross salary, and more than £51,000 in housing benefit and car allowances.” (www.dearunite.com/2011/07/simpsons-golden-wheelchair.html). It is not known whether Kavanagh wrote a letter to Simpson complaining of the cost to the union.

Apparently it is outrageously excessive when Unite spends less than £500 on a union militant to keep him going for a year and a half, but perfectly acceptable to hand out £500,000 in a year to a useless bureaucrat, who spent his life dumping on the membership. We will leave it to the readers to decide who got the “substantial amounts” and who was in need of hardship assistance.

When Omer came to that London Grass Roots Left meeting he was at his wits’ end. Indeed his case had now been publicised in the Weekly Worker, but still he could not pay his mortgage; he was three months in arrears, threatened with a repossession order and facing imminent homelessness, but had nowhere to get the £1,050. He was hiding in his house, afraid to turn on the lights and fearful of the next knock on the door. Shamefully at first we still treated it as business as usual, making plans to launch a new appeal in the unions, etc. But Socialist Fight’s Charlie Walsh intervened in the end with a typical outburst: “If we had a victimised member like that in the old Workers’ Revolutionary Party, we would make sure he could survive and pay his bills. I will give £100 now - that’s what’s needed”. Gerry Downing promised to match it and the following morning launched an appeal based on the two donations. Within two or three days money to cover the entire mortgage arrears was raised and the SWP leadership were shamed into promising to fund Omer’s mortgage until his hearing in November.

It must be stressed that Omer won this particular battle because he ‘played the field’: he appealed to, and participated in, a wide range of organisations outside the remit of the SWP, according to his political sympathies and preferences; and fortunately he found militants prepared to push his case independently of the SWP and the Unite bureaucracy and regardless of the disapproval of that latter corrupt organisation. It is worth recording those initial donors (some are retired or low-waged) and their organisations:

Charlie Walsh (Socialist Fight, Grass Roots Left and Irish Republican Prisoners Support Group): £100; Gerry Downing (SF, GRL and IRPSG): £100; Natalie (Workers Power and GRL): £50; anonymous (Free Mumia Abu Jamal campaign): £100; Carol Foster (SF, GRL and IRPSG): £50; John Tymon (GRL and IRPSG): £50; Sheila Cohen (GRL) £50; Tushar Sarkar (GRL): £50; Bridget and Ant (J7, Free Mohammed Hamid): £100; Michael Holden (IRPSG): £50; Amanda Logan (SWP): £100; Graham Campbell (SWP): £100; Ben Rickman: £60; Chris Ford (GRL): £50.

There were many more SWP and other donations later, but as yet we only have the details of these initial vital ones.

Nothing will move the Unite bureaucrats apart from a public campaign and a revolt of their members; it is to the members of his own union in the two bus garages of Edgware and Harrow that he must orient now: they hold the key. We (all his genuine political supporters in all political groups and none) must launch a support group modelled on the Defend Yunus Bakhsh campaign. The employment tribunal found Yunus was unfairly dismissed by Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Trust because of trade union activities in July 2010 after a vigorous model public campaign by the SWP and a wider range of other trade unionists.

Omer needs a campaign of lobbying and public meetings, etc, to demand an official ballot for industrial action for his reinstatement after a full campaign explaining the whole case to all the members.