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.
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
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
– 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
– 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
– For a socialist plan of production
– Failing companies must be nationalised and run by the workforce.
July 1, 2003.