Britain: Crucial Election Gears up in AMICUS!

The forthcoming elections in AMICUS to elect the 48 lay member executive for the newly formed union of 730,000 members will be the beginning of a new era for workers in a whole range of industries. For many on the left over the years, the prospect of electing a leftwing executive committee to the former AEEU could only be a wild dream from which they would have expected to wake up at any minute. Yet the prospect is now very real.

This is an historic time for AMICUS members! The forthcoming elections in AMICUS to elect the 48 lay member executive for the newly formed union of 730,000 members will be the beginning of a new era for workers in a whole range of industries. For many on the left over the years, the prospect of electing a leftwing executive committee to the former AEEU could only be a wild dream from which they would have expected to wake up at any minute. Yet the prospect is now very real. The AMICUS Unity Gazette, comprising of rank and file members from the former AEEU and MSF, have selected a slate of candidates to contest the elections covering all industries and regions. Nominations for the new executive committee will start on 10th October, with voting starting on 17th November and finishing on 5th December. Newly elected members will then take up their positions on 1st January 2004.

It was not too long ago that the previous leaders of the AEU and EEPTU, forerunners of this present merger, were very much to the right and in direct collusion with the Tory government and bosses. They were at the forefront of arguing for 'New Realism' the beginning of 'Blairism', or put another way, they believed that unions should roll over and lie dead, do what the bosses want, in the hope that management would be nice to workers and give us a few crumbs. As a result a series of sweetheart, 'no-strike deals' were signed. Sir Ken Jackson merely continued these policies under a new name of 'Partnership'. These deals did not improve British industry, workers wages or conditions. In fact they contributed to low investment in machinery and people, low wages with long hours.

Defeat of Jackson

The tremendous election victory of Derek Simpson over Ken Jackson was the accumulation of years of the left in the union fighting against the stream. The election victory was no accident but a reflection of deep seated struggles and a mood of dissatisfaction from top to bottom with the way the union had gone since the defeat of the left in the old AEU and the merger with the EEPTU to create the so-called super union of the right. It is no accident either that there has been a spate of left wingers elected to leading positions in other unions over the recent period.

Up until the present, the policy of the rightwing was collusion with management. When that was not seen to work, everyone's hopes were placed on the newly elected Labour Government. But they have not fundamentally reversed the Tory years, or even repealed the anti-union laws or greatly improved workers living standards. In general, any one offering an alternative to the present ideas and who talks a good fight is now getting elected.

The election of individual lefts in the unions is a step forward. However, the increasing confidence of the rank and file, which is certainly taking place in AMICUS, is even more important. Obviously, the executive committee elections are of key importance. The election of a rightwing executive will entrap Simpson. The election of a leftwing executive will empower and pressure Simpson to speak up for the movement in general, but more importantly it would be an important step to empowering the rank and file of the union. It is not just a case of left and right-wingers engaged in some abstract political game in smoked filled rooms. It is a case of whose side are they on? Are they going to succumb to management and the government, or are they going to stand by workers and fight tooth and nail for every job, every penny on our wages, and every improvement in our conditions. This is the crux of this election and the future employment, wages and conditions of our members revolve around electing a leadership that is prepared to fight for its members.

There are a number of issues facing our members that have to be addressed now, not least the fact that the loss of 10,000 manufacturing jobs a month has to be halted. The lack of investment in new machinery over decades has been due to the bosses just taking their profits and playing the stock market for quick gains. Now that the stock market has fallen we are being made to pay with inferior pension schemes, even though they took contribution holidays in the 80s and 90s. Each industry we represent has its problems whether it be the health service and foundation hospitals, aerospace after 9/ 11, the constant threat of Corus to sack more workers, etc.. Each issue, no matter how small, is very important to each worker concerned.

Political impact

The political impact that a leftwing AMICUS executive committee could have within the Labour Party could be enormous. Together with other unions a campaign could be organised to take back the party, encouraging members to join and take an active part in the Labour Party at constituency level, arguing for political polices that will benefit workers not the bosses. The industrial and political struggles are all intimately linked together. In the end the only way to save jobs permanently, to cut working hours without loss of pay, to address all the problems facing working class people is to make the capitalist system redundant.

The election of the Unity Gazette's candidates is not a foregone conclusion; a lot of hard discussions on how best to take the union forward are needed. The surprise defeat of Mick Rix in the recent Aslef election is a warning against complacency and the argument that no campaign is needed - the rightwing, aided by big business, will always be plotting to divert the class struggle. Every member at every level therefore has a role to play. What the Unity Gazette candidates are standing for represents a union that not only will erase the bad old years but install a democratic organisation fighting for its members interests. We must sweep away 'sweetheart deals' for collective bargaining.

Weakness invites aggression

We must ensure that members, buffeted by globalization and the international search for cheap profits, can defend themselves and their jobs. That means adopting a militant approach. Negotiate with management from a position of strength, backed up if necessary with the threat of industrial action. The weakness of no strike deals only invites aggression. AMICUS must demand that the Labour government repeal the anti-trade union laws that shackle union power, while demanding the same legal protection on jobs as our European brothers and sisters, but understanding that only our united strength will gain any real advances on these issues. The demands for democracy within the union, like the reintroduction of election of officials, restoration of the district committees and freeing up branch funds are a must to involve all members in the union.

The next few months will determine which way the union will go. Though whatever happens nothing will be the same again in the union. The rank and file is on the move and will reclaim their union. These elections are just the beginning. Let us secure an historic victory for our members. Help us elect a leadership that will fight for the interests of our members, Vote for the Unity Gazette candidates and remember - unity is strength!

Socialist Appeal is proud to give its energetic backing to the Unity Gazette slate in the national executive committee elections. There are supporters and readers of Socialist Appeal on the left slate. In this issue we are highlighting the statements of three of these comrades:

Constituency: Construction & Contracting

Phil Willis

I believe that we work in a first rate industry, but on third rate terms, and it is time for a change. If elected here are a few of the campaigning issues I would want to raise on your behalf:

Health & Safety - Some industry bosses place much more emphasis on profit than they do on the value of a workers life. It's time that the Corporate Manslaughter Bill was passed to protect construction workers lives.

Sickness & Pension Schemes - We have no proper pension/sickness provision for engineering construction workers. We need a robust sickness/pension scheme specific to our industry.

Bogus Self Employment - A cancer in our industry. Many of our workers are forced into accepting terms less favourable than they should, simply because the employer offers a 'take it or leave it attitude' to wages and conditions.

Proper Representation & Democracy - We need ELECTED full time Officials who are fully accountable to the members they represent. They should be born of our industry, who understand our industry and who are willing to fight for us. We need an HONEST & HARDWORKING, lay executive who are prepared to stand up for members rights.

I am and always will be a socialist. I campaigned vigorously last year for Derek Simpson and am proud to stand now on a left wing ticket for a place on his lay executive. I ask for your nomination, in order that I may be given the chance to make a difference to the lives of working people. And with your support I pledge to do just that.

Constituency: Energy

Mike Gaskell

Members of Amicus who work in the energy industry have had to endure years and years of job losses, attacks on terms and conditions, all kinds of schemes, gimmicks and fads designed to squeeze every last drop of productivity out of us, and the ever present threat to job security posed by the gathering pace of contractorisation / casualisation of the entire industry. The Tories privatisation of the energy industry, persevered with by Labour, has proven to be the disaster widely predicted by the unions at the time. We have witnessed massive sums of money siphoned off in the form of vast profits and fat cat pay and bonuses for the bosses on the one hand, and a less reliable electricity network on the other. Graphically illustrated recently with the power cuts experienced by large parts of the country when the wind blew last October and by the difficulties being experienced by the likes of British Energy coupled with the complete collapse of TXU Europe.

The response from our Union has been the concept of partnership. This is the idea that if we assist the company in achieving maximum profits then their gratitude will ensure that our members jobs are safe. The partnership argument was also used to lower expectations of what the election of a Labour Government could achieve. Better to use our influence with the Government and co-operate with, rather than, confront the employer ran the argument. This approach has failed miserably, since privatisation jobs have shrunk from 114,219 in 1990 to 71,000 in 2001. This reduction went largely unnoticed with no campaign of opposition organised by the union. In some instances the union supported schemes such as "conversion franchising" this is in effect a scheme that allows companies to make those workers redundant then use their redundancy money to buy their jobs back. The end product is the smashing of organised trade unionism with collective agreements terms and conditions etc. and the creation of many small businesses all competing against each other for work. A Tory dream.

The partnership approach however has not prevented disputes and in the example of Scottish Power, power systems, led to strike action in 2001. In that dispute partnership proved to be a very poor defence against attacks on our terms and conditions. I am opposed to that approach and believe that we have the industrial strength and ability to stand up to the attacks on us from both the employer and the regulator.

It is now six long years since we elected a Labour government. The massive optimism and expectation that things could only get better have been betrayed. As a Socialist I believe that the union exists to represent the members, to defend our current terms and conditions and to improve them. The union should also have ambition on behalf of its membership and should argue and campaign for a better society. What is wrong with calling for full employment on decent wages. The right to a decent home. A health service free and readily accessible to everyone. The right for trade unions to take strike action free from the interference of the courts. For the ending of the free market anarchy currently ruining our industry. In my opinion the privatisation experiment has failed and should be ended. We need an energy plan that looks to the future needs of the country and not the short-term need for profit that cares nothing for the wider needs of society. I am a supporter of the calls to reclaim the Labour Party for the Labour movement. Criticism of the Government does not mean we want the Tories back. We should campaign as a union for

- An energy plan in order to end the free market anarchy that is ruining our industry.
- Common standards of pay, hours of work, pension provision, holidays. These should be not less than the best already achieved.
- A thirty five hour week
- A massive influx of trainees ( apprentices, trainee engineers, clerical and admin) to end the culture of casualisation.
- Retirement at fifty.
- Build the 'Save the manufacturing industry' lobby of Bournemouth Labour conference 29 September.

Constituency: Foundry & Metals

Peter Currall

I have been a member of the old AEU since 1966 and have worked in engineering all of my working life. I started as an apprentice fitter/turner and am currently employed at Corus Tubes as a multi-skilled craftsman.

The decline of British manufacturing continues; we face record plant closures and a haemorrhage of jobs, and the Labour government has done nothing to help the situation. The union must step up the pressure on the government to take action otherwise in the long run there will be no manufacturing left at all.

There have been over 6,000 job losses in Corus alone during the past 2.5 years; steel making is a vital sector of industry that has been dying a slow death. The private sector has proven completely unable to run the industry, the Labour government should intervene and renationalise steel production.

With the election of a new General Secretary things have begun to change within the union, but we need a strong leftwing executive with the power to make changes and bring about more democratic control. I stand on this platform ordinary members should have more say on how their union is managed!

If elected I will campaign on the following issues,

- Return the union to the members! District committee/shop stewards quarterly meetings must be restored to encourage greater organisation, discussion, and control at local and regional levels.
- Democratic elections at all levels of the union, including fulltime officers.
- Open accountable structures.
- Financial openness.
- For a fighting, campaigning, union that will represent the interests of the members - not the bosses!

September 2003.