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.Ummm, we do over here too…
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.Ummm, we can do that over here too. If the audience ‘doesn’t get the reference’, they must be wilfully stupid.
Why is the ‘Independent’ trying to make its readers believe that it’s an unknown simile?
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.Aha, this is the case that Pavlov’s Cat recently blogged about.
It seems it all started with an unseemly spat between the differing factions of the Righteous:
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.Which shouldn’t have caused a problem, except for one thing:
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.Oh, nicely done, ‘Independent’! I see what you did there…
The Unison members are just dim, dumb proles, who can’t be expected to know or understand a perfectly well-known simile, eh?
Yes, that makes perfect sense. I mean, if you can’t insinuate that, your readers might wonder if, perhaps, this was merely a ginned-up ‘outrage’ designed to put four troublesome employees back in their box…
Still, the Primate Four have brought in the big guns – the comedians.
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."It won’t be the papers making them look like chumps (note: not chimps!) it’ll be their own behaviour.
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."I’m tempted to wonder if this isn’t another of those ‘can’t they both lose?’ events, but I’d actually come down on the side of the Marxists here, for once.
Because if groups like the Unison management are able to engineer a totally bogus ‘racism’ row over something that they themselves have had to admit held no racist intent, then they come that much closer to controlling speech in this country, and cowing those of us who would use all forums and methods to halt their advance across the public sector.
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."This’ll be one to watch…