The shocking case of Abdul Musa, an Asian worker sacked by Royal Mail after he complained about racism at his office, was highlighted again last week.
The former postal worker from Blackburn, Lancashire, was awarded a sum thought to be in excess of £100,000 after an employment tribunal agreed that he had been unfairly dismissed.
As well as shedding light on Abdul’s disgraceful treatment at the hands of Royal Mail, the case raises serious questions for the CWU union.
The tribunal heard that Abdul was called a paki and a cockroach daily and that racism was endemic at the office where he worked for seven years. Workers at Abdul’s office even sent him a card for the Muslim festival of Eid containing the message, “Happy paki Christmas”.
When Abdul complained about the behaviour of one member of staff, his colleagues “sent him to Coventry” and some stepped up the abuse still further.
Graffiti in the toilets read, “Kill the pakis”. After Abdul’s father had died, one worker told him that he planned to have his dog shit on his grave.
In evidence to the Tribunal, Abdul said, “Look what happened to me since I complained about one individual. I am now scared to walk the streets of Blackburn. I hold Royal Mail responsible.”
Royal Mail managers knew there was a culture of racism in their office, and frequently witnessed it themselves. But they chose to ignore it.
They even mocked Abdul by placing his response to a Royal Mail survey where he had complained about racist abuse on the work notice board.
An independent investigation into racism in the office followed Abdul’s complaints. It uncovered shocking evidence but Royal Mail brushed its conclusions under the carpet.
Instead, managers began disciplinary proceedings against Abdul. In a startling case of blaming the victim, they alleged that Abdul was a racist and that he had abused his colleagues. In 2007, Abdul was sacked and his appeal was rejected.
Royal Mail’s behaviour was atrocious, but some members of the local branch of the CWU made serious mistakes in the way they dealt with the issue.
Instead of vigorously challenging the racist culture in the office some defended those being disciplined by Royal Mail for their abusive behaviour. The union organised meetings to discuss industrial action in protest at a worker being suspended for alleged racism.
The tribunal found that when an Asian member tried to join one of the meetings he was barred as one person shouted, “Don’t let him in he’s from the dark side”. The union subsequently won a ballot for strike action.
By taking such a tough stance in defence of those accused of racism, while not confronting racism, some in the union made it more difficult to root out the rotten elements in the office. This gave Royal Mail a chance to present the CWU as being part of the problem.
But the CWU has one of the best records of anti-racism of any union. Postal workers all over Britain regularly risk their jobs by refusing to deliver racist BNP election leaflets and have struck unofficially against racist bullying by management.
The union, both locally and nationally, has an unrivalled reputation for fighting fascism—and senior activists in the East Lancs branch are known for their commitment to these union’s policies.
Those are the real traditions of the CWU. They must continue to be used to drive out racists in Royal Mail, not to offer them protection.