Table of Contents
An overview of racism and sexism in the workplace in the 1960s and 1970s and how trade unions, local authorities and the courts set about dealing with harassment and discrimination. NATFHE’s approach to racism after its formation in 1976 up until its mishandling of the racism issue at Hendon Police Training school in the 1980s.
The initial harassment of the only Black woman lecturer employed at Bournville College by a union lay officer and of management’s reluctance to take action to remedy the situation. The subsequent submission of a complaint to the union – NATFHE, which stimulated a considerable level of action from local union officers to have the complaint dealt with by the West Midlands regional official, whose record for dealing with sexist and racist harassment complaints had already been severely criticised.
The regional official’s enquiry, which was presented to the complainant as an initial enquiry prior to a union tribunal hearing but became a final enquiry without the complainant being informed of this change in the procedures or any right of appeal.
The regional official releases a Whitewash report, omitting substantive evidence and misrepresenting the incidents in the complaints. This report is circulated to various sections of the union – locally and nationally.
The complainant produces a detailed, critical analysis of the report and sent it to the recipients of the report, which is the first step taken by the complainant and her representative to draw attention to the Whitewash and to seek assistance from the union’s general secretary.
NATFHE head office makes an entrance but its offer of a re-run enquiry excludes an investigation of racism in the original complaint and the regional official’s attempted cover-up. Furthermore, NATFHE refuses to include any women or black members in any investigation.
The complainant begins the search for information into the background events that had led to the complaint being referred to the regional official. This correspondence went to local union committees and head office seeking information on NATFHE’s rules, policies and responsibilities to complainants of harassment. The response of head office officials is to close down all union avenues to her.
The refusal to accept the Whitewash enquiry is followed by the re-emergence of the harassment drawing two new participants into direct action and the acquiescence of a significant section of the Bournville branch committee as the complainant is isolated in the college. This distancing itself from the complainant also applies to the West Midlands women’s panel and the West Midlands Anti-racist committee.
A paper bombardment is launched by the complainant on NATFHE committees and head office officials exposing the actions of branch members and drawing attention to NATFHE’s overall deficiencies. As a result of her endeavours to prise open NATFHE’s can of worms, the Bournville branch passes a motion to remove certain trade union rights from her and her representative and to call for an investigation into their behaviour. A statement is also produced by the branch chair making false statements against her. The proponents of this action against her are supposedly advocates of anti-racism in the West Midlands – a NATFHE myth that is soon to be questioned. False allegations about the complainant are spread around the college, including Bournville management, and local union committees.
It became increasingly obvious that her situation is part of the wider scenario confronting Black members when taking on union officials and local and national lay officers.
Unable to see a way forward, she engages in a holding operation – awaiting some form of intervention but is unsure from where this would come.
The branch chair’s statement is paraded around NATFHE’s local committees by Bournville branch officers seeking support for action against the complainant and her representative. The branch’s action provides a rich source of material for the paper bombardment to be continued by the victim.
The regional executive committee responds to the bombardment by calling for an investigation into the complainant’s allegations against the harasser, the regional official and local officers in an attempt to curb the correspondence being circulated around the union.
The complainant’s main supporter in the branch – a women’s group member, comes under fire and false allegations are made against her to the union by an influential member of the branch. Evidence surfaces that pressure has been exerted on a college governor to oppose the complainant’s promotion to equal opportunities officer.
Head office concludes, without any investigation being carried out, that the initial harasser has no case to answer. The official, in charge of the case, uses an unusual criterion for arriving at this conclusion.
The branch’s action against her leads to intervention by a Birmingham city counsellor, who, after receiving a copy of the branch statement, raises the issue in the Birmingham City Council’s Race and Equal Opportunities Committee. The alternative route has arrived.
Six months after the potential racially discriminatory act by the regional official, a head office representative visits Birmingham to speak to the complainant, the accused and the Bournville branch committee. He informs the complainant that NATFHE could do nothing for her other than through a union tribunal, but fails to inform her that this was a procedure not available to complainants of racial harassment. He advises her to seek advice from the CRE although any complaint against the regional official is now out of time.
The head office official advises the branch committee to discuss her complaint in a branch meeting, which is, in essence, ridding head office of the problem and throwing her to the Bournville pack.
As a result of advice from the CRE and the city council’s race adviser, she submits a grievance to the Bournville board of governors against three members of staff – two of whom are NATFHE lay officers.
The complainant seeks advice and assistance and representation from NATFHE for the grievance hearing. NATFHE refuses her request on the grounds that NATFHE’s services are not available to her because the union’s obligation is to protect the tenure of the accused.
NATFHE’s refusal prompted another trip to the CRE and she is advised to submit an application to the office of industrial tribunals (OIT) on the grounds of racial discrimination in the provision of benefits, facilities and services.
The complainant submits an application to the OIT, via the CRE, against NATFHE.
The branch committee calls for support for the three members accused of harassment.
The Local Education Authority take over responsibility for hearing the grievance from the board of governors.
NATFHE and the Birmingham local authority come together to subvert the grievance procedures for hearing her complaint, which is an act in breach of statutory requirements. NATFHE threatens to advise the Bournville ‘trio’ not to participate in the hearing if the procedures are not changed. The Labour city council leadership monitors her movements during working hours to bring pressure on her to drop the case. Local NATFHE officers become aware of the monitoring but do nothing to take on the city council for this violation of an employee’s rights.
The grievance hearing takes place with the Bournville ‘trio’ represented by the regional official and the complainant is represented by a friend.
Chapter X – The Picture of Dorian Gray: A NATFHE Self-Portrait – October to November 1986 (307KB) NATFHE’s response to the OIT is submitted – it is a misrepresentation of the situation and accuses her of playing the race card by claiming that she only raised the issue of racism after the regional official had completed his investigation of her original complaint and the result was not to her satisfaction. A prospective witness for the applicant at the Industrial Tribunal hearing agrees to attend to rebut NATFHE’s claim but decides not to attend after speaking to an official at NATFHE head office. The CRE decides not to support her application.
The chair of the LEA grievance hearing unofficially discloses the committee’s findings and advises her to exercise caution in any dealing with those in authority in the city council. The monitoring continues and the person behind it is identified as a leading Labour group politician. The Labour Party’s ethnic minority committee takes up the issue by calling for an investigation into those responsible for the monitoring.
NATFHE, at the local level, prepares its strategy for putting pressure on her to coincide with the prospective Industrial Tribunal hearing. The first scheme has its genesis in the regional executive as it prepares for a McCarthyite enquiry into the activities of the complainant, her representative and one of her supporters on the West Midlands Anti-racist Committee (WMARC). This is accompanied by a boycott of the committee by Broad Left Coalition members as more Black members begin to attend the WMARC meetings.
Another scheme, this one at Bournville college, to put pressure on the complainant begins to take shape.
Another potential witness at the Industrial Tribunal hearing shows the applicant the red card. An attempt is made by Bournville branch officers to brand the complainant as a person constantly accusing people of being racist – a line used in NATFHE’s submission to the OIT. This is a unique scheme in that it uses an Asian prospective lecturer – a veritable newcomer to the college to participate in it.
The full verbatim account of the enquiry into these claims made against her leads to the prospective lecturer not being employed by the college. This account is analysed and critically assessed.
Branch officers use this affair to rally the branch to their cause and it shows the extent to which branch members are prepared to acquiesce in unsubstantiated accusations and rumours.
The Labour group leader issues a dictat to all city council officers to remove references to racism from all reports, which includes the LEA’s report of the grievance hearing.
The first reluctant witness warns the complainant not to use details of the dealings between the complainant and the witness during the initial stages of the original complaint to the union when appearing at the Industrial Tribunal.
The Bournville branch scheme prompts a resurrection of a paper bombardment sent to members of NATFHE committees to set the record straight. The branch passes a motion to support the prospective Asian lecturer against the college, which can be seen as a warning to the LEA of what to expect should action be taken against the Bournville ‘trio’.
Just prior to the rearranged Industrial Tribunal hearing, the REC/Broad Left Coalition(REC/BLC) implements its McCarthyite enquiry and produces a report against its three targets using unsubstantiated and inaccurate information obtained from anonymous contributors.
The LEA call the complainant and her representative to a meeting, the purpose of which remains unclear until much later – part of a deal with NATFHE to bury the grievance and the report, which prevents the complainant using the report at the Industrial Tribunal hearing against NATFHE.
The REC/BLC defends its McCarthyite enquiry while trying to undermine the growing influence of Black members in NATFHE’s anti-racist committee. The BLC members, having boycotted the committee, return in order to avert criticism of the McCarthyite enquiry and to introduce a new constitution for the anti-racist committee aimed at reducing Black participation to observer status without voting rights.
The Industrial Tribunal is postponed for the third time.
Bournville officers and the REC/BLC collude to introduce a motion aimed at the complainant prior to the re-arranged Industrial Tribunal hearing. This motion disappears from view after its racially discriminatory consequences are exposed by the complainant.
The LEA continues to refuse to release its report with the Industrial Tribunal looming but promises to release it after the May local elections; and a lukewarm apology is accepted by the LEA from one of the Bournville ‘trio’ and he leaves Bournville without anything on his record.
The Labour Party Black sections take issue with the NATFHE/Labour Party White left on issues involving the complainant but this is met with a Janus-style response.
The Industrial Tribunal is postponed for a fourth time.
The Labour Party Black section continues to confront the NATFHE/Labour Party White left. This brings some unusual responses as well as predictable ones. The Birmingham NATFHE Six show their impotence and reluctance to take any action in support of the complainant, including the monitoring issue.
The Birmingham Labour Party’s big guns enter the fray but their contribution is merely an attempt to conceal their involvement. Interest in the problems faced by the complainant reaches far and wide including a women’s organisation in France.
The REC/BLC proposes segregating anti-racist activity under the proposed new constitution for the anti-racist committee. The Black Lecturers Group were assigned the task of directly tackling racism while the overwhelmingly White membership were to develop anti-racist policy.
On the eve of the Industrial Tribunal, NATFHE’s Annual Conference produces a bombshell. The principal offender in the Bournville ‘trio’ assaults the woman author of the McCarthyite report and is ousted as chair of the West Midlands region.
The first letter to the press on the issues is published in the ethnic minority press.
Chapter XV – NATFHE Tolls its Own Bells – June 1987 (289KB) The Industrial Tribunal hearing is held in Birmingham
NATFHE’s submission is sunk without trace within minutes of the hearing starting. The Tribunal criticises NATFHE officials for their conduct in the complaint brought against one of its officers at Bournville college.
The Tribunal finds that NATFHE’s policy in not providing advice, assistance and representation to the complaint is racially discriminatory but consider that this is outweighed by the union’s obligation to protect the tenure of the accused irrespective of the merit of the complaint.
Documents disclosed at the Industrial Tribunal reveal NATFHE’s involvement in subverting the statutory grievance procedures; and the apology from the main participant in the harassment, both of which were previously unknown to the complainant
NATFHE’s local committees support the union’s stance and denies that the Tribunal criticised NATFHE officials as well as denying the discriminatory implications of the union’s policy.
The regional council rejects all motions from the Black Lecturer’s group. The new constitution for the anti-racist committee is approved and the REC/BLC re-asserts its dominance to curb greater participation in the union by Black lecturers and the Black lecturers’ attempt to implement a more effective means to tackle racism.
The LEA is approached by the complainant seeking the release of the grievance report and other relevant paperwork – attempts that drew nothing other than evasions.
The written report of the Industrial Tribunal is released, showing that NATFHE had no effective policy to deal with racist and sexist harassment.
The first steps are taken to draw NATFHE’s policy and its implications to the attention of Labour MPs and MEPs.
A Labour MEP refers NATFHE’s policy to the European Commission.
Press coverage of the case is mainly in the ethnic minority press but 7 Days, a Communist Party publication, criticises the union’s policy. This brings a response from a NATFHE head office official that contains the same fabrications produced in NATFHE’s submission to the OIT. The same approach is adopted by the official when dealing with Labour MPs showing an interest in the case.
A breakthrough comes when the Guardian publishes a letter from a union officer stating that the policy claimed by the union is at odds with NATFHE’s practice in the London area. This officer, when contacted, produces a detailed account of NATFHE’s policy, which supports complainants in harassment complaints.
An application is made to the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) and the CRE agree to support the application.
NATFHE’s general secretary enters the scene by exonerating the actions of the regional official, who had been severely criticised by the Industrial Tribunal. He makes a thirty word statement of his judgement without conducting a hearing or explaining the procedures used – the usual way that NATFHE deals with complaints.
Birmingham City Council, refusing to put anything in writing, provides a watered down verbal report of the grievance hearing given to the complainant by a person with a vested interest in the outcome.
A mini-campaign is launched on Bournville management and the Bournville board of governors exposing the irregularities in the procedures and the contradictions and deficiencies in the verbal report.
The press campaign identifying NATFHE’s policy and its implication hits home. A conference on anti-racism organised by NATFHE to take place a week before the EAT hearing is boycotted by trade union and anti-racist organisations, including the CRE.
A newly-elected Bournville branch committee, following wholesale resignations from the previous committee, seeks to restore the rights of the complainant and her representative but this proposal is sabotaged by a group of branch members.
The EAT upholds the Industrial Tribunal decision – a decision that makes NATFHE’s policy a legal precedent covering such cases. An application is made to the Court of Appeal supported by the CRE.
NATFHE discloses its intention to change its rules, which will have no effect on the legal precedent now established.
A major campaign is launched by the complainant directed at all Labour MPs and MEPs providing details of NATFHE’s policy and calling for a change in the law. NATFHE head office responds with misrepresentations of the issues involved. This reaction provides the opportunity for the complainant to disclose, to MPs, MEPs, trade unions and a range of anti-racist organisations, full details of the issues leading up to the EAT hearing. A Labour MP refers the implications of the case to the Government.
NATFHE’s cult of denial remains but evidence becomes available that other trade unions do not operate the policy that is now a precedent binding these trade unions.
Correspondence concerning the grievance submitted to the Bournville governors is sent to all members of the city council’s Personnel and Equal Opportunities Committee, which attracts some curious responses.
The TUC general secretary’s response to NATFHE’s policy is to ignore it. His response is to hold a conference on anti-racism at NATFHE Headquarters. An anti-racism organisation, Black Rights, threatens to picket the conference if the conference is held there because of NATFHE’s policy towards victims of racist harassment. Black Rights received support from leading trade union officers and the conference venue is changed.
Mr Ian MacDonald, QC represents the Appellant in the application to the Court of Appeal. Lord Justice May upholds the Industrial Tribunal and EAT judgements, thereby, burdening the whole of the trade union movement with a racially discriminatory policy. A CRE officer comments on the judgement by stating that “The victims of racial discrimination are now defenceless.”
Leading trade union officials take up the cudgel against NATFHE at a TUC anti-racism conference and at the TUC annual conference.
The complainant appears on radio in Birmingham and letters appear in the Times Educational Supplement (TES) from her, her representative and Black Rights criticising the union’s policy while a head office official’s letter to the TES shows that NATFHE is still in a state of denial and myth making.
NATFHE tackles sexist discrimination in the North-East of England. The complaint is against an employer for discrimination in the areas of promotion and salaries.
NATFHE officials turn in on themselves when taking advantage of Thatcherite law on trade unions, which leads to the ousting of the incumbent general secretary.
The complainant and her representative take a final flight into one of the cuckoo’s nests – a signing off letter to NATFHE head office setting the record straight and challenging the myths that have lodged themselves in the cuckoo’s nests.
The courts begin to take up the issue of discrimination and harassment in a more serious vein.
The law catches up with the changing nature of society, something NATFHE fails to do.
The aftermath of the Weaver case – has anything really changed in NATFHE; or in the AUT, another lecturers union, whose general secretary is an ex-NATFHE official involved in the Weaver case. The rhetoric flowing from the mouths of these union officials suggests that real change might have taken place but the Shahrokni v NATFHE and Deman v AUT tribunal cases show that it had not.
NATFHE disappears into history, by merging with the AUT, while its discriminatory policy legitimised in Weaver v NATFHE remains as a precedent to this day (April 2014).