THE article in The National on “Questions for Unison official as Labour and Unionist link revealed” was the worse kind of journalism and not what a serious journal should publish.

Firstly, nothing was revealed that was not already in the public domain. Johanna Baxter, head of local government for Unison Scotland, has been a Labour Party activist for many years. Not that unusual for a trade union employee. That she is currently chair of the party’s NEC and a supporter of the current party leader is well known. This is nothing to do with her job with Unison where she is a highly effective negotiator on behalf of our 80,000 members in local government in Scotland where she is required to challenge council officials and leaders of all political parties.

However, the article makes the link between Baxter’s Labour Party position and Unison’s decision to go ahead with strikes in schools this week. It then quotes an unnamed SNP source as saying that this calls into question whose interests she is working in and suggesting that the decision to go ahead with strikes was to make a political point in the by-election the following week.

This is of course just nonsense. It is unfortunate that The National would print such a slur against an individual and denigrate Scotland’s largest union, attempting to undermine its determination to fight for a better pay rise for its members, without checking facts.

Johanna Baxter doesn’t make decisions on whether to take strike action, or whether to accept or reject pay offers. Unison is a democratic, member-led union. It was members in 24 out of 32 councils who decided to take strike action.

This recent decision on whether to call off the strike was taken by Unison’s Local Government Committee, made up of ordinary members, elected by local branches. All are employees in Scottish councils. As Unison lead negotiator, Baxter communicates with Cosla but follows the instructions of the committee.

The political affiliations of the members of the committee are mixed with both Labour and SNP members sitting with members of no party. The decision to continue with the strikes was unanimous, and neither Baxter nor any other employee of the union had a vote in that decision.

The reason for the decision was nothing to do with what Baxter does in her own time. Members have suffered a long-term decline in living standards and are seeking a pay rise that will help them keep up with the cost of living. The most recent offer, received less than an hour before many school staff were due to finish work for the long weekend, goes nowhere near the 11.4% inflation that existed in April when the pay rise was due to be paid. Cosla has had six months to produce an improved offer and waited till the school gates were being closed.

This is a workforce that is prepared to strike for better pay and Unison’s Local Government Committee was prepared to back them. This is no political stunt, this is an industrial dispute between low-paid workers and their employers.

Since the article was published Johanna Baxter has been subjected to a torrent of abuse on social media. That is unacceptable. However, for SNP supporters it should be of concern that many Unison members have been outraged by the attempt to undermine their legitimate case with a political slur against an employee of our union.

The National, and independence supporters, need to do better. They could start with apologising to Johanna Baxter and supporting low-paid council workers fighting for a decent pay.

Stephen Smellie is the depute convenor of Unison Scotland