Britain - Amicus conference: shift to left continues

The MSF and AEEU held their conferences last week as part of the process of fusion into one union, Amicus. A steady move to the left is taking place. The next step is the battle of the left to win the executive, after last year's victory that saw the candidate of the left, Derek Simpson, elected to the position of General Secretary of the AEEU. The conferences for MSF and AEEU, the two unions merging to form Amicus, Britain's biggest engineering union, ran concurrently separated by a joint rules conference that debated and formally voted on the rulebook for the new union.

Big changes are taking place in Amicus and this was reflected in the mood of the conference. Almost every delegate commented that the AEEU conference was a refreshing change from the conferences that have taken place in previous years. It was much more open than the stage-managed events in Jackson's days, with far fewer suited full-time officials prowling about.

The election of Derek Simpson caused turmoil in the old right wing of both unions, and has thrown them into confusion. The right has always based itself on the apathy among a large section of the members to keep them in power. But a decisive section of the membership are changing their ideas and beginning to look for a change from the discredited policies of the past 10 years.

The New Rulebook

The one-day rules conference included delegates from both unions to debate and formally ratify the new rulebook. This was the last important step in the formal merger of the two unions into Amicus.

Phil Willis, a left candidate for the executive,  speaking at the conference
The broad left of the new union, Amicus Unity Gazette, met weeks before the conference, as reported in an earlier issue of Socialist Appeal, to decide what position to take on the question of the rulebook in the rules conference.

The decision was taken to support the rulebook despite the fact that it was far from perfect. If the rulebook had been voted down by the rules conference it would have put off the EC elections and left the right wing in control of the joint union. It was decided that the main priority is to win the EC elections and create a left executive. A left EC could immediately begin work on changing the rules to allow greater control and participation by lay activists, and give the power back to conference rather than the EC. Therefore the left supported the rulebook tactically as a starting point.

The Crisis in British Manufacturing

The main issues of the conference were pensions, corporate killing, employment and trade union rights, and the crisis in British manufacturing. Derek Simpson said 155,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the last year alone, 13,000 a month, he criticised the lack of investment in industry, and the lack of support from the Labour government:

"We are literally staring into the abyss. If we compare manufacturing bases with other leading countries, within five Parliamentary terms we face having a prime minister not fit to share a table with his or her G8 counterparts. No other country is sacrificing their industrial base in this way because our competitors realise how vital manufacturing is, not only to the people that work in the sector and in related jobs but for the whole UK economy.

"Further job cuts undermine the UK's capability to sustain our existing manufacturing base, yet if the government introduced the same employment protection here as is enjoyed on the continent, UK workers wouldn't be the easy target for redundancy they are now."

Simpson also announced plans to organise a co-ordinated demonstration of manufacturing unions at this year's Labour Party conference over the destruction of manufacturing, and the anti-union laws which hamper our ability to fight back.

Fight for Socialist Policies

Socialist Appeal supporters in Amicus intervened in the conference with a special pamphlet, A Socialist Programme for Amicus, and organised two fringe meetings on the need for the unions to reclaim the Labour Party. We sold over 150 of these pamphlets, which were very well received; great potential exists for socialist ideas in the unions at the current time.

Amicus Unity Gazette fringe meeting
The union membership is disillusioned with the policies of their former right wing leaders, who have consistently sold out the members' interests with their policies of 'sweetheart deals' and partnership with the bosses. Workers have been forced to get by in whatever way they can even during a period of economic boom, so they have had their heads down.

The election of a Labour government in 1997 was the first step in workers trying to change their situation. Blair and his clique have squandered the huge Labour majority carrying through the same policies as the clique around Jackson in the AEEU – they are more concerned with their cronies in the city than their supporters in the union movement.

The election of Derek Simpson was a huge victory for the left. The members of AEEU threw out Jackson and his ideas, and that has been the trend across the labour movement. This trend will continue because workers are sick of their own leaders selling them out in collusion with their boss.

For the progress that has been made in Amicus/AEEU to continue we need a left EC, who will put forward policies in the interests of the members. But if we want a victory for the left we will have to work for it. This is the only way to get a union fighting tooth and nail against closures, against job losses, for a decent wage and decent pensions for all.

This fight must be taken into the Labour Party. The new union will have a powerful voice in the Labour Party; we sponsor 120 MPs through donations to constituency parties. We must use that influence to reclaim and transform the Labour Party. The Labour party was built by the unions to represent the interests of workers in parliament. Only a Labour government with socialist policies can begin to solve the problems that face us.

We need a left EC for:

- An end to sweetheart 'no strike' deals.
- The union must fight tooth and nail against job losses and threatened factory closures
- A democratic union, give power back to lay-member led branches, and restore district committees to break the centralised control.
- Election of all officials

The unions must reclaim the Labour Party and fight for a Labour government with socialist policies.

- Repeal all anti union legislation – for full rights and protection for workers from day one.
- Pay us what we are worth - A fair wage for all, and retirement at 50 with a full pension
- For a socialist plan of production
- Failing companies must be nationalised and run by the workforce.

July 1, 2003.

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