So PCS sets the police on me for organising a peaceful direct-action campaign against the deaths of 73 disabled people a week. And also makes a complaint to my own union. With the result that my role as UCU Wales vice chair becomes untenable.
How does UCU respond to a serious complaint against one of their officers?
- No-one tells me about it until almost 3 months later. Despite the fact that UCU knew about PCS’s intentions to set the police on me before it happened.
- In the general secretary’s correspondence to PCS on this matter, it doesn’t occur to her, or any of her senior officials, to perhaps talk to me or ask for any input or right of reply from me.
- The general secretary and president absolutely refuse to meet me face to face so that I can explain why PCS’s complaint had no basis whatsoever. And so that I have a chance to demonstrate that, despite having a mental health condition, I am not the deranged homicidal lunatic I have been so widely portrayed as being across the Left (cheers comrades). They refuse to let me speak to them. Not even ever-so-briefly. Not even though I’m at UCU’s London headquarters on a fairly frequent basis as a member of national committees to which I have been elected.
- My colleagues on UCU Wales Council contact the Wales Chair to “express concern” about Facebook comments I make about PCS. I’m not told what these concerns are. Because none of my colleagues on Wales Council will take their “concerns” up with me directly. But I suspect the posts which they’re “concerned” about are the ones where I struggle with anger-management issues over the fact that PCS sent an intimidation squad of police round at midnight.
- Despite not talking to me, my colleagues on Wales Council are happy to discuss my mental health with the many armchair psychiatrists in the South Wales trade union movement who have taken on self-appointed roles of expounding at length on my mental health. Their diagnoses diverge rather dramatically from my actual medical diagnosis and appear to be peppered with terminology such as “deluded”, “psychotic”, “unstable”. But I can’t address my Wales Council colleagues’ concerns. Because they won’t talk to me.
Is it coz I iz a nutter?
I am pretty sure that UCU’s bizarre behaviour toward me is dominated by misconceptions about mental health. But how do you reassure people that you’re not a deranged nutter when they won’t give you a chance to talk to them face to face? Are they really that afraid of me?
Are disabled people the Kronstadt sailors of the Left?
In 1921 Lenin and Trotsky sent the Red Army troops to mow down their comrades at Kronstadt. A lot of disabled activists have expressed the view to me that the trade unions have become part of the apparatus of our oppression, and that the Left is not doing anything near at it could or should be doing to stop the deaths of 73 of us a week (according to the DWP’s own figures) when DWP employees stop our benefits.
As a lifelong trade unionist I have tended to speak out strongly against the view that the trade unions are not interested in stopping the destruction of hundreds of thousands of disabled people’s lives. But I have to say it’s becoming increasingly hard. I’m finding very little evidence to support the view that the trade unions give a damn about us. And there sure is a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest that they don’t. PCS and UCU’s treatment of me over the issue of PCS setting the police on me is challenging my belief in the trade union movement to the core.
It is hard to resist the Kronstadt interpretation in the way PCS and UCU have dealt with me.
By refusing to give me a right of reply to the complaint, by responding to PCS without ascertaining the facts, and by refusing to allow this matter to be dealt with democratically through UCU’s disabled members’ committee, the GS has effectively colluded with the trotskyists in PCS who believe it is appropriate to progress political arguments by shutting down the opposition by any means necessary, including unseating them from elected office in other unions and setting the police on them.
As a trade unionist I’ve worked very well with trotskyists and count many among the trade unionists I most respect and admire. I have strongly opposed the witch-hunting of trotskyists. But it is undeniable that there are elements within trotskyist groups that believe themselves to be above trade union rules when it comes to furthering their objectives.
And as can be seen from the chaos in the SWP at the moment over their kangaroo-court dealing with a rape allegation against a member of the CC rather than involve the police on grounds that they have no faith in the bourgeois police and the bourgeois court system to deliver justice, there are elements within trotskyist groups that believe themselves to be above the bourgeois legal system.
But as my experience seems to indicate, the trotskyists in PCS are not above making use of the bourgeois police to intimidate the convenor of a disabled-people’s movement whose objectives are an inconvenient distraction to their own. By not ascertaining the facts and refusing me a right of response to the complaint, the UCU general secretary has allowed herself to be an unwitting tool in carrying out a trotskyist political agenda.
Correspondence with UCU general secretary
Until recently I was the convenor of the disabled-people’s direct-action anti-cuts movement in Cardiff. I learned just before Christmas that PCS made a complaint against me to UCU about my campaigning activities. PCS also complained against me to the police.
I would like to meet with you to reassure you that I am in no way a danger to DWP staff, PCS members, UCU members or anyone else. I am coming to London on Thursday for Friday’s meeting of the Commission on Trade Union Democracy, and would very much appreciate the opportunity to give you this reassurance in person.
The Facebook quote that PCS cited in their complaint against me (that perhaps if more disabled people were to go set themselves alight in front of DWP staff, that might facilitate PCS taking the plight of disabled people more seriously) was taken completely out of context: it was an expression of exasperation that came at the end of a lengthy thread in which disabled activists were being given a really hard time by elements of the ultra-left for campaigning against the DWP (which is felt by some to be an attack on PCS – disabled people are being accused by some elements of the ultra-left of “dividing the working class” and “attacking rank and file workers” for campaigning against the Welfare Reforms, because it is felt by some that focusing on what’s happening to disabled people will take PCS’s focus away from leading the build-up to a general strike).
As the convenor of the disabled-people’s anti-cuts movement in Cardiff I always made it very clear (there’s plenty of evidence of this on Facebook) that we never target individual DWP staff. I had on several occasions had to stop disabled people from targetting DWP staff (slashing tyres, bullying DWP employees on Facebook, etc) and I’ve twice had to spend an entire night talking a desperate disabled person out of going down the Jobcentre the following morning and committing suicide in front of DWP employees in some horrific fashion.
My commitment to ensuring that DWP employees are not targetted is well-documented on Facebook and elsewhere, and was also well-known to the PCS Wales office. I met with them in September to discuss the campaign and to impress upon them that while the DWP was a legitimate target for peaceful direct action (given that it is the arm of the state that is responsible for the deaths of 73 disabled people a week), we were in no way targetting DWP employees and would make that very clear to all our activists and supporters. I asked PCS at that meeting to phone me on my mobile at any time of night or day should any disabled person threaten or attack DWP employees so that I could persuade the person concerned that there are more constructive ways to protest. People are desperate: hundreds of thousands of disabled people are having their lives destroyed by the DWP and 73 of us are dying every week after our benefits are stopped. People are understandably being driven to desperate acts. But such individual acts of desperation are negative and destructive; it is the aim of the disabled-people’s anti-cuts movement to channel such energies into more positive and constructive forms of protest, namely peaceful direct action.
PCS had no grounds for complaining to UCU about me. Nor had they grounds for setting the police on me. I believe this would not have happened had I not had a mental health condition. Ever since I ‘came out’ as a trade unionist with a mental health condition I have been appalled at how widespread within the trade union movement are discriminatory stereotypes of mental illness. Having a mental health condition in no way makes me a danger to DWP employees or anyone else, and anyone who takes the trouble to speak to me for 5 minutes will be able to see this.
PCS’s complaint against me to the police resulted in a very frightening midnight visit from the police and subsequent targetting and bullying from the police. Following an investigation into my complaint South Wales Police have admitted they were at fault in the way they handled the issue and a number of their officers have been formally ‘given advice’ on the matter. I refer you to the complaint I made against South Wales Police (this text deals only with the first of several episodes of police harassment resulting from the PCS complaint against me):
As I’m sure you will agree, subjecting someone to an experience like that described above because they advocated that disabled people exercise their right to peaceful direct action against the DWP is completely unacceptable. Doubly so, given that the decision to go to the police (rather than take a more sensible approach to addressing concerns, like discussing them with me directly) appears to have been taken on the basis of discriminatory prejudices of mental ill-health and a belief that people like myself are “dangerous” because we have mental health conditions. Triply so, given that PCS is a trade union, and should not be silencing anti-cuts campaigners and shutting down legitimate debate.
UCU Wales is of course very concerned that my activities as a disabled activist and anti-cuts campaigner will damage UCU’s relationship with PCS. It has been put to me that perhaps it would be better if I stand down as UCU Wales vice chair. I do not want to cause UCU any trouble; I have therefore agreed to take no further part in the disabled-people’s anti-cuts movement and have ceased all disability activism.
I do believe, however, that it is important that other disabled people in UCU should be able to campaign against the Welfare Reforms that are killing 73 of us a week without fear of PCS setting the police on them. I am therefore asking the Disabled Members Standing Committee to ask the NEC to seek clarification from PCS, perhaps something along the following lines:
UCU would like to request clarification from PCS as to how our members should best campaign against the Welfare Reforms. Higher and further education are recognised by the HSE to be among the most stressful working environments in the UK and as a result there is a high incidence of mental ill-health among our members. Many of our members become to ill to work, and as a result are subject to the Work Capability Assessment, a process which is leaving many disabled people homeless and destitute.
We are concerned that PCS complained to the police and to UCU about the campaigning activities of a disability activist in Cardiff who is a UCU member. While we have no position on whether disabled people should take peaceful direct action against the DWP as part of the campaign against the Welfare Reforms, we believe that it is legitimate for disabled people to advocate such views, and should be free to do so without being reported to the police by a trade union. If PCS had concerns, we believe there were other, more appropriate ways, to address them.
My apologies but i won t be in the office tomorrow. I m not sure a meeting is needed regardless.
I ve read through your letter a number of times and have re read the post on your Facebook page where you said
You guys do what you want. I am exhausted to the core of being the hate figure of the trade union movement in Cardiff for having the audacity to object to PCS members destroying our lives. I’m so tired of being attacked by trade unionists who used to be friends and colleagues for “targeting” the poor innocent workers who are implementing the policies destroying us. To be honest, I believe that what PCS needs is a good many disabled people going down the jobcentres round the country and setting ourselves alight in front of them or otherwise committing suicide in horrific ways to show the fuckers what they’re doing to us. I volunteer to go first, I’m fucking exhausted and I don’t want to play anymore.
I appreciate that you say this was taken out of context but it did cause genuine anxiety within PCS who have a duty to represent and protect their members. Out of respect for another union and I assume because they were aware you were active in UCU they made UCU aware but I have to say, they were within their right s to contact the police given the concern that they had following that post.
You ask us to contact them. That has been done via Helen Carr, Head of Equality and she will update the relevant committee members.
She has forwarded to me the joint statement from PCS, DPAC and Black Triangle on campaigning against welfare cuts. In it they make clear their opposition but also state that “PCS members are often on the frontline, facing the anguish and anger of those suffering from government welfare policies. PCS members did not create these policies, the union does not support them and is committed to campaigning against them”.
You say you were and are ill. That is obviously a factor to be considered and thank you for your openness on that. You deserve the same openness in return. If you are an officer of the union, you cannot assume that your conduct in public meetings or other public forums will be seen as separate. I make no judgement either way on that , it is simply a fact. As Vice Chair of UCU Wales therefore, the facebook posting was one which was seen by people in that context. I fully support therefore the actions of fellow Welsh officers where they have sought to discuss this with you.
We are all fighting the attacks on the most vulnerable in our society but this cannot be helped by attacking each other. The relationship with PCS is important to UCU. Our support for our members is equally important.
With respect, I strongly object to UCU claiming that PCS was justified in setting the police on me when you are not in possession of the full facts.
Yes, I made a stupid post on Facebook. But this in no way justifies dealing with it by involving the police. This is one single post that should be set against the very many public statements I have made on Facebook and elsewhere that we absolutely will not tolerate targetting, harassing or threatening DWP staff. I had a very good working relationship with the officials in the PCS Wales office, and close friendships with several PCS Wales Council members including the vice president all to whom I had made our position as disability activists very clear, that we will not target DWP employees or threaten them in any way.
In the context of the very lengthy Facebook debate it was a part of, it is very clear that my post was an expression of extreme frustration against the trotskyists (many of them not in PCS) who were condemning us for seeking to “distract” PCS’s attention away from building for a general strike.
The decision to set the police on me was a political attack on me and the disabled-people’s anti-cuts movement. It was an attempt to shut down political debate what PCS’s campaigning priorities should be. Over the last few months I have been contacted by a number of members of the PCS DWP Group Executive Council who have reported that the trotskyist dominant group of the GEC is of the belief that PCS’s primary objective is to build for a general strike, and that the “decks should be cleared” of all other campaigning priorities. GEC members who have argued in GEC meetings that other industrial issues within the DWP group should not be deprioritised have been threatened with PCS disciplinary action by the dominant trotskyist faction. The PCS GEC is also failing to implement Group Conference policy with regards campaigning against the Welfare reforms.
Yes, my post on Facebook was stupid. But it needs to be seen in context. It handed a faction within PCS a perfect excuse to shut down an area of debate that was gathering momentum. If PCS was genuinely concerned that I was a danger to DWP staff, why did they not use the system we had already agreed should such concerns arise: that the PCS Wales Office would phone me?
There is no justification for PCS to have set the police on me, and this will be clear if all the facts are taken into account. This is a political issue, and should be dealt with politically: through debate within UCU’s committees. This is a wider issue concerning disabled people’s right to campaign against the arm of the state that is killing 73 of us a week, and it is an issue which concerns many UCU members.
If UCU responds to PCS by telling them they were justified to set the police on me without there being any debate within UCU’s democratic structures on this matter, then UCU will have done a great disservice to its disabled members, and I shall resign all my positions in UCU in protest and have nothing further to do with the union.