Open letter to Tony Woodley and Jimmy Kelly

Open letter to Tony Woodley, General Secretary and Jimmy Kelly, Irish Regional Secretary Unite

 

 

Gordon McNeill

Sacked Belfast Airport Shop Steward

5 Foxhill

Ballymena

Co. Antrim

Northern Ireland

BT43 5JB

Tel: 07934632366

 

 

23.07.08

 

Dear Mr Woodley and Mr Kelly,

 

I am writing to respond to your offer to pay £40,000 each to myself, Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer in return for a legally binding commitment that we never again make any statement or comment on our lengthy dispute with the leadership of the T&GWU/Unite. Your offer also included a promise to pay the, now quite substantial, legal costs we incurred as a consequence of your insistence that negotiation on all outstanding issues between us be conducted through solicitors.

 

Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer have accepted your terms, seeing this as the only way they can pay the most recent legal bill and settle the debts they built up as a result of this dispute.

 

For my part, I cannot accept what, to my mind, is an inducement offered only to buy my silence. My right to tell the truth about all that has happened over more than six years is not for sale.

 

As senior officers of Unite I would have expected that you would have defended my basic democratic right to free speech. Instead you have offered to pay £120,000 plus legal costs to myself and my colleagues in return for the surrender of this basic right.

 

I would also have expected that you would have defended, in all circumstances, my democratic right to peacefully protest. Instead you have served me with an injunction barring me, or any of my supporters, from engaging in any activity connected with this dispute at Transport House and have threatened me with fines and/or imprisonment if I defy this ban.

 

I also consider it a responsibility of the leadership of any union to ensure that members of that union are fully and accurately informed of the full facts of a dispute such as this. Your attempt to buy our silence contravenes the democratic right of every Unite member to know the facts so that they can scrutinise, and criticise if necessary, the actions of their leadership.

 

Rather than present Unite members with the facts, you have published a series of statements on this dispute on your website that are defamatory of myself and my colleagues and are also wholly inaccurate.

 

I take no pleasure in making the accusation that you, as the Unite officials responsible for this dispute, have published lies about what happened and in particular about your role in it. Nor do I make this accusation lightly. I can and will provide unanswerable evidence to prove that the version of events published in your recent statements is totally and knowingly false.

 

For the moment I give just one example. The statement dated 20.06.08 headed, “The Truth and Nothing but The Truth”, which is still posted on the  union website, purports to record what happened in 2003 when the current leadership of the union took charge of our dispute and negotiated a deal with ICTS.

 

The statement claims that the sacked workers initially accepted this deal at a meeting which the shop stewards refused to attend but were then persuaded by the shop stewards and others to oppose the deal. Not a word of this is true.

 

I have published on our blog (www.belfastairportworkers.wordpress.com) a letter from Unite official, Brendan Hodgers to Bill Morris, dated 27.08.03, which must be in your possession. This letter is a report of what actually took place in 2003. It completely contradicts your recent account. It, for example, makes clear that the shop stewards were not invited to the meeting you claim they refused to attend. In fact they were refused the right to attend. It also explains that the 16 sacked workers who attended that meeting rejected the deal you claim they accepted. They did so unanimously.

 

As you are aware, we recently won our court battle with ICTS and, in doing so, secured an important legal victory that strengthens the hands of all trade unionists. On 24 July the Court of Appeal upheld our claim that ICTS sacked us because of our trade union and socialist beliefs.

 

I find it frustrating that your actions to date have prevented me from resolving my dispute with the Unite leadership. I would much prefer to settle this issue so that we can all concentrate on our battles with employers and the government.

 

However it is not possible to arrive at a settlement on the terms that you have proposed. I therefore set out below a number of steps that, were they taken, would allow me to bring my campaign of public protest on this to an end.

 

These steps are as follows;

 

  1. Withdraw the injunction and restore my right to protest
  2. Remove the slanderous and inaccurate statements dealing with this dispute from the union website.
  3. Set up an independent and open inquiry into the union’s handling of our dispute from 2002 to the present in order to establish the full truth about what took place.
  4. Withdraw the confidentiality/gagging clause from the compensation offer.

 

My health has suffered as a result of the hunger and thirst strikes that I undertook recently at Transport House. This requires me to undergo surgery followed by a period of recuperation. I would much prefer that, at the end of this period, I did not have to resume my public campaign for justice but could concentrate my efforts on supporting other workers in struggle.

 

I appeal to yourselves and to the Unite Executive to agree to the four modest proposals above so that this can happen.

 

Yours fraternally,

 

Gordon McNeill.

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