Monday, 2 March 2015

EAT found against Max Watson but UNISON won the bigger victory: I'm still in the workplace & so is Jawad Botmeh

Our Employment Appeal Tribunal against London Met for trade union victimisation was unsuccessful, it was announced Thursday.

The Appeal confirmed that one member of the establishment (Judge Shanks) supported fellow members of the establishment instead a trade unionist... hold the front page!

It was never going to be easy winning in a court of law. To be clear though - we did win our campaign for reinstatement in 2013 and that was the bigger victory.

It was not because the law was on our side: we won because we mobilised and took collective action.

We gathered support for our case in the corridors of our workplaces, not in the corridors of power.

We convinced the members of our unions and our communities that our cause was just but we couldn't convince the courts of justice.

And whilst the judges turned their back on us, our supporters rallied to our cause in their hundreds.
When we launched our campaign, with a press release and a call for action to lobby the first hearing for Jawad, dozens appeared on Holloway Rd within less than 24 hours’ notice.

Raw footage of the moment Harry Lister, UNISON full time officer at the time, announced that management had just blinked first.

Initially they were going to suspend Jawad in his absence as he was on leave when I was suspended on 7th February.

They conceded to wait a few days until he returned to defend himself, but this was at the 11th hour and only after they’d seen the crowds gathering on their doorstep demanding justice.

A petition was started and soon gathered momentum with 2,500 signatures.

Hundreds and hundreds of emails and letters were sent to the VC and Director of HR via our UNISON branch website.

A model motion was passed (originally by SOAS branch) and taken up by branches up and down the country, which lead to £2,000 being raised in donations from Hackney Trades Union Council, UNISON Hackney LG, UNISON Kensington and Chelsea LG, UNISON Southampton LG, UNISON University College London, UNISON Senate House and EdExcel, UNISON Manchester Metropolitan University, London Organisers Network.

A blog, a Facebook group and a twitter profile were all buzzing with daily updates.

An excellent legal team for Jawad was certainly helpful, no doubt, in persuading the VC to back down when they claimed he had not correctly identified his criminal conviction upon employment. In fact he had.

Another lobby bringing together activists from Jawad’s original campaign for Freedom, and trade unionists who were familiar with our branch as a result of our long running battles against management at London Met was twice as big as before.

At a speech at UNISON’s NEC, I reiterated the issue was about targeting of all trade union activists we secured the support of UNISON’s leadership.

At a rally a week or so later, Jeremy Corbyn MP and Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS, spoke alongside national UCU and UNISON officers.

We’d already got support from the RMT and TSSA General Secretaries - the next step was to be a message of support from the TUC.

A ballot for industrial action was approved if there was any move to dismiss the Chair of our UNISON Branch.

With the tide of support on our side Lyn Link, the Director of HR, suddenly  resigned. After all these bitter disputes over the years, members celebrated and we sensed victory.

At UNISON’s packed AGM, the day Jawad was reinstated on 12th March, and the day before I was, the branch was in celebratory mood and Jawad received a standing ovation.

A week later we celebrated in style in ‘El Comandante’ and raised a few glasses to victory, a rare thing for trade unionists to do these days. That is a moment I will savour for the rest of my life.

Management backed down but they went ahead and disciplined me to save face and gag me for a few months. It was this detriment we challenged through the courts, so we set to prove their anti-trade unionism.

A Freedom of Information request unveiled an abundance of evidence. Emails about me from the senior managers included phrases such as “The Enemy within”.

When I was campaigning with feminists and trade union activists to save The Women’s Library, Paul Bowler dismissed our valid concerns as simply: “Max and his Cronies trying to cause mischief!”

When Alison Wells, the legal Secretary claimed there was “no plague virulent enough to unleash” on me, her secretary joked he thought I should “go skydiving”. He resigned shortly after that was revealed at the Employment Tribunal.

Alison Wells left the University some months later and the Times Higher Education published her 'Plague' statement about me in their headline and her justification: it was just 'banter' (isn't it always?)...

Paul Bowler repeatedly labelled me as a “1970’s ‘Bully Boy’ style of Union Official” to his colleagues, and he declared he was known as always favouring “a tougher stance on the unions”.

Jonathan Woodhead (Malcolm Gillies personal adviser, previously David Willets' personal adviser) claimed I was ranting "in true SWP style" at one protest. I was even asked during cross examination "do you have an allegiance to the SWP?" Answer: "No I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the SWP!"

The judges did at least concede, there was “unusually strong evidence of anti-union animus on the part of the University” towards both UNISON and me personally:

“The ET found that the relationship between the University and the unions was “fraught,” that there were a number of areas of dispute, and that Mr Watson was regarded by some members of the senior management team as a “thorn in the side”.

That is of course, not enough for us to win however.

So we also set about showing the case against me was flawed: Peter McCaffery, when cross examined, accepted there was in fact no evidence of dishonesty on my part yet that was a key charge against me. And having accepted he should not have upheld that charge it was then explained because he "it seems he was somewhat confused”.

Employment law is not written in our favour. By all accounts it’s extremely hard to win a trade union victimisation case. One expert told me: "the chances of winning a case are so much weighted against the claimant always."

It was important to take it as far as we could, though. We could have settled with the final written warning – but we challenged them every inch of the way.

When we lost the legal case it was extremely disappointing and we could have walked away and called it quits. So we took the appeal knowing that was our last chance. It was important too for our members to know this legal case was funded and supported by our union.

We set a marker down and the University should hopefully have learned a lesson and will know that if they try to victimise one of our reps again we will always stand fully behind them.

Two years after being suspended, I am branch secretary and still on the NEC of our union. Our branch submitted a motion which got heard at National Delegates Conference 2014 and passed to become policy of our national union: "Defending Trade Union Activists (and our Facilities Time)" to ensure we do all we can to defend our reps.

You can watch the speeches at NDC firstly by Ros Hanmer:

Sandy Nichol, here:

And Mark Evans here:

Jawad is still working at London Met. He was punished by the state for being a Palestinian activist in 1994 and only released fourteen years later. So a six months final written warning and constant harassment in the work place for being a trade union rep is nothing in comparison.

And I don’t regret for a second the moment I was asked by a mutual friend “do you know of any jobs coming up Jawad could apply for?” And I stand by the statement I gave at the time of my suspension here, that I was proud to have been part of giving him a second chance in life.

Ultimately we won the bigger victory and we remain at work with our heads held high. On the other hand, Gillies has gone, Wells has gone and so has Lyn Link.

You can read the full judgment here.

Thanks once again to each and every person who supported us along the way.

Onwards and upwards!

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