The result of the election for General Secretary in the Amicus section of Unite the union vindicates the challenge that was mounted by Jerry Hicks against the attempt of Simpson to cling onto office without election. Although Simpson won with a vote of 60,048 Jerry Hicks was well placed in second position, polling 39,307 and easily beating the right wingers Kevin Coyne, who only gained 30,603 votes and Paul Reuter who came fourth with 28,283.
The vote for Jerry Hicks was gained despite Simpson resorting to using the resources of the Union to campaign for his election. During the nomination period he embarked on a tour of regional activists meetings with reps paid expenses by the union to attend and where Simpson spoke about the union election. No other candidates were offered this facility. The Spring edition of the union journal was brought forward to early February, the week before the election. It contained nine photographs of Simpson linked to numerous articles about union campaigns, although ironically the front cover had a picture of Simpson with a megaphone in front of a poster that read ‘Cut my pay – No Way!, that could easily have been a reference to the £180,748 wages and benefits that Simpson stood to lose if defeated! Every member of the Amicus section was also sent a letter from Simpson the week before the election geared to issues in the sector in which the member was placed and also stating that it was ‘vital that I…am able to provide the continuity so necessary in these difficult times’.
A statement from the Executive was issued with the ballot paper saying ‘The Executive Council of the union wishes to point out that it believes statements in the enclosed election address of Jerry Hicks to be untrue and misleading’ and stating that ‘Mr Simpson’s salary is currently under £100,000’ despite the 2007 annual returns to the Certification Officer, signed by Simpson himself, showing otherwise. This action is now subject to a complaint to the Certification Officer by Jerry Hicks as a contravention of both union rules and law, and if successful may possibly cause a re-run of the election.
The result confounded the argument of the Editorial Board of the former broad left organisation, Amicus Unity Gazette, that Jerry Hicks did not stand a realistic chance of winning, exposing their lack of confidence in the ability of a left wing candidate and programme to win the support of workers. Having originally selected right wing South West Regional Secretary Laurence Faircloth as a candidate the weakness of the Gazette was exposed when he only gained 44 branch nominations compared to the 60 gained by Jerry Hicks. After close of nominations Faircloth then withdrew from the contest and recommended support for Simpson. But the Editorial Board only compounded their errors by opportunistically arguing for a vote for Simpson to stop Coyne!
There were some on the left who had argued that Jerry Hicks was not exactly a well known or experienced left wing leader despite his record as a leading Rolls Royce convenor, victimised trade unionist and member of the Amicus Executive. Similar arguments were used against Mark Serwotka, the PCS General Secretary, when he stood in 2000 as a rank and file candidate against the bureaucrat Hugh Lanning. What Jerry Hicks vote proves yet again is that a left wing rank and file candidate standing on a workers wage, who is not tainted by the compromises and extravagant lifestyles of the Trade Union bureaucracy, can win huge support from members.
During the election the Morning Star newspaper published an article announcing that ‘The union’s Workers Uniting Group and Communist Party members’ are supporting Simpson. The Workers Uniting Group contains CP members, mainly from Yorkshire, who split from the Amicus Unity Gazette group last May. What was left of the Amicus Unity Gazette has now merged with the TGWU Broad Left to form the United Left which also contains CP members. At the inaugural conference in Birmingham Tony Woodley addressed the meeting calling on “absent friends to join with us” which was presumably a call for Simpson and the ‘Workers Uniting’ group to join the United Left organisation. Members from the NW region were also handing out ‘Vote Simpson’ leaflets at the end of the meeting. At the inaugural London meeting of the United Left an attack was made by the chair on “politicos”, attempting to draw a distinction from “ordinary trade unionists”. The attack echo’s previous attacks by Simpson made on “trots” in the union. It seems clear that moves will be made to try to unite the two groups by attacking and expelling the left. At the March Executive meeting it was also agreed by the United Left majority to hand over powers to the Joint General Secretaries to deal with disciplinary measures against members. This undoubtedly will signal the beginning of a period of witch hunts in Unite against rank and file members, similar to the attacks that have been made by the Unison bureaucracy on left activists.
During the campaign Jerry Hicks ceaselessly toured the country speaking to a whole new layer of activists who were inspired by his campaign. The 60 branch nominations and 55 shop steward nominations were achieved despite pressure by some full time officers not to nominate Jerry. 60,000 leaflets were distributed during the course of the campaign paid for from donations received from shop steward committees and the sacrifice of individual members. During the leafleting at Norwich union insurance company an appointed full time seconded union rep sent out an e-mail to all members telling them to destroy the leaflet! It was gross actions like this from unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats, in partnership with the bosses that energised and inspired members to vote for Jerry.
Jerry gave support to the construction workers at Staythorpe who were fighting in defence of their national agreements. There he received a fractured leg following an attack by the police on the demonstrators. This didn’t prevent him from continuing his campaigning and attending the demonstration at Newark on the 24th February at which Simpson spoke, insulting the audience by saying “This is a bitter fight, a fight to destroy wages and conditions and they’re using foreign workers to do it, and we need to stop ‘em. All of us need to stop ‘em. Not standing here gobbing at me because you’re in an election or because you’re from the BNP or just ‘cos you’re a tosser who’s had too many pints.” After Simpson had finished his tirade Jerry spoke through a megaphone to the crowd and received great applause and support for his call for a national strike in construction.
Since the election Jerry has continued to tour the country speaking at meetings to encourage activists mobilised by the campaign to continue to become involved in the struggle. It is from this that a genuine democratic broad left can be built to transform the union in the future.