Unison officials appeal over 'wise monkey' ban

Four members barred from holding office over claims leaflet was racist

In Japan, they know all about the three wise monkeys, who see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil – because one has his hands over his eyes, another over his ears, and the third over his mouth.

So if you want to level a gentle insult at a group wilfully ignoring what is in front of them, you can call them the "three wise monkeys" – so long as your audience gets the reference.

But not everyone does, as four activists in public sector union Unison have discovered. They have been disciplined for distributing an "offensive" leaflet which carried a drawing of the proverbial monkeys. The cartoon was interpreted as a racist slur against a fellow activist – a charge the four vehemently deny. They say no one could believe they intended a racist insult, and that they are victims of a "witch hunt" by New Labour loyalists, who control the union. The four have been barred from holding office in the union, but have taken their case to appeal – which begins today.

The row dates from an incident nearly two years ago, when supporters of the Socialist Party – a Marxist group well to the left of Labour – tried to get Unison's annual conference to discuss proposals to cut links with the Labour Party, and reduce the pay of full-time union officials. Unison is one of the biggest donors to Labour, despite occasional friction.

The rebels were told by Unison's standing orders committee, which determines what can be discussed at conference, that there were more important matters to be debated in the available time. Irritated by this, they distributed a hastily printed leaflet with a cartoon that compared the committee with the three wise monkeys.

The only member of the committee familiar to most Unison members is Clytus Williams, the chairman. He is a lay union activist and well liked by most delegates. He is also black. The idea the far left was trying to caricature him as a monkey infuriated delegates, many of whom are low-paid workers more familiar with bar room racism than Buddhist culture and proverbial monkeys.

Four members of the Socialist Party, Glenn Kelly, Onay Kasab, Suzanne Muna and Brian Debus – who all hold unpaid offices in Unison branches – were ruled to have distributed "offensive" material, and barred from office – though investigators accepted there was no "racist intent". Their cause has been taken up by comedians Rory Bremner and Mark Thomas. Mr Bremner said: "On the face of it, Unison are about to make themselves a laughing stock. They need to be aware of the ridicule this will attract to the union and its leaders, and think again before the papers get hold of this and make them look foolish and authoritarian."

Mr Thomas said: "I know Onay Kasab. To accuse him of being racist is utter stupidity and madness. Those who brought this charge need to take a lie down in a quiet room, possibly with whale music playing and get a rest."

Labour MP, John McDonnell, a veteran critic of New Labour, said: "Unison's leadership are doing the bosses a favour. It is a political witch hunt."

A spokeswoman for Unison said: "We confirm a National Executive Council panel found these members breached several Unison rules, which require 'members, activists, representatives and staff, are treated with dignity and respect at all times when participating in the union's democratic structures'. As there may be an appeal, the union is unable to add more until this is concluded."

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week