Amicus Conference 2005: Return the union to its members

“Attending this conference and its fringe meetings has indicated a change in mood. Derek Simpson has said that he wants to return Amicus to where it belongs that is in the hands of the membership, not as an extended hand of the multinationals. Activists in the union have to make sure that this is carried out in practice.”

On Thursday 5th May 2005, the British electorate endorsed what has been described as an historic third term Labour Government.

What will this historic third term mean? A continuation of “New Labour” or a more radical approach whereby the Labour Party – and I use the term Labour Party and not “New Labour” – returns to its bedrock principles, those of the Labour Movement, the working class and the trade unions. As an active trade unionist and optimist, I demand that “our” Labour Party returns to its core values.

In fact this view was shared by many of the delegates who attended the Amicus Policy and Rules Conference in Brighton on the dates of 14th-18th May 2005. The recent travesties at MG Rover and Marconi demand that the Labour Government return to those core values. British workers have been, and are continuing to be, sacrificed upon the altar of global capitalism. Inadequate employment rights, oppressive anti trade union legislation, imposed by the Thatcher Government, which this current government is reluctant to repeal, make it easy for transnationals to cut British jobs, no more so than within the manufacturing industry, the cornerstone of the Labour Movement, the working class and the trade union movement as a whole.

Derek Simpson, Amicus General Secretary, made reference to some of these points within his opening addresses to Conference at the weekend. The General Secretary vowed to fight for the rights of British workers. Furthermore, the point was made to conference that the government should be mindful of the role played by us and the whole of the trade union movement within the General Election. This union is not subservient and the government needs us more than we need this government. Given those opening addresses, Derek Simpson and those trade union General Secretaries of a left wing disposition, along with the membership, will play an integral part in returning the Labour Party back to those core values.

A multitude of rule amendments and motions were debated at conference and it would be nigh on impossible, as well as impractical, to discuss each and every one. However, those which are deserving of a mention are:

Overwhelming support was given in the fight against the BNP and fascism, as was the fight against corporate manslaughter. Overwhelming support was also given for our HSBC comrades who are embarking on industrial action in light of the HSBC posting excessive profits, the CEO being awarded a bonus in excess of one million pounds, whilst many of its workers are being offered a zero or below inflation pay award. Other issues discussed at conference will be mentioned later on within this article.

Fringe Meetings

Whilst the Policy and Rules Conference was important, so were the fringe meetings, of which I attended as many as practicably possible.

At the Morning Star rally, which was attended by well over one hundred delegates, Derek Simpson spoke about a number of issues, the most important of which being the forthcoming talks surrounding the proposed merger between Amicus and the T&G. Whilst effective organization and returning the Labour Party back to its roots were vital, so was the need for trade unionism on an international scale, in order to make a meaningful challenge upon the capitalist class. The proposed merger with the T&G would potentially be a start to that process.

On Monday 16th May, Derek Simpson also addressed an Amicus Unity Gazette fringe meeting for the purposes of arguing the case of electing as opposed to appointing full time officers. The meeting was attended by at least two hundred delegates and the overwhelming view of those delegates was that electing full time officers would be another progressive step in returning this union back to where it belongs, to that of the membership. On Tuesday 17th May the motion was put to conference, where it was carried albeit with a slim majority.

However, the most inspiring fringe meeting which I attended was the Socialist Appeal backed, Hands off Venezuela meeting, hosted by Espe Espigares. Having followed events in Venezuela within recent editions of the Socialist Appeal and given that mainstream media coverage was non existent, I felt this to be an ideal opportunity to further enhance my understanding with a view to lending my support to the campaign.

The meeting was held on Saturday 14th May. Given the negligible media coverage and being the first day of conference, the meeting was well attended.

The situation typifies the working class struggle, a struggle which has no borders, boundaries, or prejudices. The working class of Venezuela has had to endure corrupt government and western exploitation. Hugo Chavez, elected by the people on several occasions has changed the fortunes of the working class, favouring land reform, improved social conditions, improved peoples democracy and control over the country’s oil. This has incensed Venezuela’s ruling class, as well as the Bush administration, to a point whereby Chavez was kidnapped and a Bush favoured government imposed. This along with several attempts to discredit Chavez has failed, due to the resistance of the Venezuelan working class.

On Sunday 15th May, Espe addressed conference, further developing awareness of the situation in Venezuela. The motion was carried unanimously, with 521 delegates (97.93%) voting in favour.

I, along with a number of good comrades, added our support to the campaign, handing out leaflets, spreading the message and seeking signatures for a petition, no more so than at the Amicus function at the Grand Hotel, Brighton. The issue gained momentum, especially when we, along with Espe, embarked on what was considered by many to be a sit down protest in the Hotel’s foyer.

The working class of Venezuela needs our support and solidarity and we should emphasize that international working class solidarity is a necessity in order to combat global capitalism.

Attending this conference and its fringe meetings has indicated a change in mood. Derek Simpson has said that he wants to return Amicus to where it belongs that is in the hands of the membership, not as an extended hand of the multinationals. Activists in the union have to make sure that this is carried out in practice. He has vowed to fight for the rights of British workers, as well as strengthening this union in order to combat the threat of the multinational. The Labour Party has to radically change and return to its roots, that of the Labour Movement, the working class and the trade unions. The class struggle is international and the need for international solidarity to support our comrades is essential.