The results for the Amicus Executive Committee elections have been announced, and they herald an important breakthrough for the left with 23 candidates from the broad left, Amicus Unity Gazette, slate being returned.
Although this does not give the left an overall majority on the new lay Executive it is undoubtedly a step forward starting from a very low level of only a handful of lefts on the executive structures of MSF and AEEU, the constituent unions of Amicus which officially merge on January 1st 2004.
The leadership of both of these unions and their forerunners has been dominated by the right-wing for years. The AEEU especially has been a pioneer of class collaboration between the employers and union leaders in the form of ‘sweetheart’ no-strike deals signed behind closed doors, and refusing to fight against the anti-union laws that have tied one hand behind the members backs in negotiation and struggle.
Likewise the leadership of both of these unions has fully supported the clique of middle-class, Blairite careerists in the Labour Party; firstly in their attempts to hijack the party, and thereafter in their continuation of Tory policies of attacks and cuts in the interests of the bosses.
The years of corrupt and right-wing leaders who have failed to offer a way out of the problems, but instead have collaborated with the employers to introduce new working practises and wage restraint, explains the low turnout in the election which was not more than 15% and as low as 6% in some industry sectors. Nonetheless as we have explained many times the current right-wing leadership in the British union movement is the product of the lull in the struggle following the defeats of the 1980s - while the working class had its eyes off the ball these people clawed their way to the top of the movement. This process is now reaching its limits and beginning to turn into its opposite, a growing number of workers are looking for solutions to the problems they face.
The right-wing have tried to keep a lid on this mood - but whatever they do they will not be able to hold it back indefinitely. As with all leaders who do not represent the workers interests, they are destined to be washed away and replaced with more honest and effective leaders.
And while they might breathe a sigh of relief, this election result is a serious blow for the Blairites in the union and the Labour Party and their friends in the company boardrooms. They only just managed to hold their majority, which is far smaller and weaker than it was in the past. They are also confronted with an organised caucus of left EC members. This accounts for the gloom and despondency in the bourgeois press around the result.
Neither are they out of the woods yet. There is a widespread perception among the activists that these elections were rigged, and a some evidence in relation to this is being investigated. In spite of the fact that the right-wing hardly campaigned they defeated most of the strong left candidates, including prominent Socialist Appeal supporters, while many of those lefts who were standing in difficult seats won, and often with a decent majority. A number of challenges to the results are now being considered based on the widespread discrepancies in the vote. A few successful challenges would tip the balance of forces on the EC in favour of the left.
Most importantly we must not lose our perspective. The shift in the balance of forces to the left is the product of a profound discontent among the membership, which only mirrors the broader processes taking place throughout society as a whole. This is not going to go away; in the hands of the right-wing the union will not offer any alternative to the problems the members face but only more of the same.
The balance of forces as they stand could put us into a dangerous position. With only a few seats standing between us and a majority on the EC some on the left might be tempted into making deals and subordinating our ideas and principles in order to achieve short-term goals. Down this road lies disaster. Why compromise a winning programme?
Now is the time for the left to develop and reinforce our ideas. We must consolidate our forces on the EC and build the Gazette into a fighting campaigning body with a life outside election campaigns, one which can inspire and win the membership to socialist ideas.
In this way we can put our ideas across on the EC and to the wider membership on the shopfloor at one and the same time. This will allow us to put enormous pressure on the leadership to take up the struggle for our interests, and begin building and preparing to lead the membership to take the union fully back into our hands. Both those that won and those that lost will redouble their efforts over the next period ready to contest the EC elections in three years time.
A more detailed analysis will follow shortly.