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Posted on 21 July 2008 at 0:00 GMT

Vote 'no' to Unite's new rule book

Members of Unite, the union formed through the merger of Amicus and the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU), are currently being balloted on the proposed rules accepted by its joint executive council in April.

Kevin Parslow, secretary, Unite branch 1/1228, personal capacity

This vote takes place against the background of Unite members organising some high-profile and successful strikes, such as the Ineos pensions' dispute at Grangemouth and the Shell tanker drivers' strike. Unite members were also on strike on 16/17 July against low pay in local government and have overwhelmingly rejected the NHS pay offer.

Despite this, Unite has been the biggest donor to the Labour Party in recent months.

The new rules have been drafted for the full merger of the union. But they reflect more the period we are leaving, of stagnating membership and low strike activity, coupled with the trade unions' historic support for Labour, than the period we are beginning to enter, where militancy is on the rise and workers are increasingly turning their backs on New Labour.

The proposals put Unite even further behind the pro-big business Labour Party than ever before, and restrict political activity to a mere handful of its two million members, at a time when members are facing privatisation, cuts, and pay restraint, totally at odds with the union's policies.

The socialist clause in the TGWU rule book has been deleted. The provision in the Amicus rules for the election of regional and national full-time officials has gone. The general secretary will be the only elected full-time official of the new union. Youth members will only have observer status on union bodies whereas they were full members of committees in Amicus.

Further, the rights of branches to have their own policies will be curtailed. No motion shall be "submitted by or on behalf of the union or any group or body within the union to an organisation or body outside the union if that motion is inconsistent with existing union policy".

Any "representative of the union at a meeting of an organisation or body outside the union... shall speak and vote in accordance with the policy of the Union".

But it is the section on "Political Organisation - The Labour Party" which will cause the most disquiet. The formation of "Regional and National Political Committees" is proposed, "composed of individual members of the Labour Party to co-ordinate the union's work in the Labour Party". This thin layer of Labour Unite members will decide the political orientation of the new union.

To ward off discontent over the link with Labour, the Unite leaders propose a 'Warwick II agreement' as a follow up to the 2004 Warwick Agreement, which New Labour has only partially fulfilled. In 2008, the unions' demands are even more limited and Gordon Brown now says there will be no changes to the anti-trade union laws, long demanded by Unite and other unions.

Socialist Party members are in favour of 'political trade unionism'. But this cannot be achieved by hoping for crumbs from the New Labour table. Socialists and trade unionists are now at a stage similar to that of the 1890s, when many union leaders tail-ended the capitalist Liberal Party, to try and receive a few reforms, while socialists fought tenaciously for the trade unions to set up their own party to represent their interests.

We have come full circle, with many union leaders coat-tailing New Labour in the same way. The suggestion made by some PCS civil service union leaders that there should be a conference to discuss political representation for the working class should be urgently taken up inside Unite as well.

Socialist Party members are advocating a 'no' vote in the ballot on the new rules. We are not opposed to the merger; we support it as a step to improving the strength of working-class organisations but we warn against the new rule proposals. Recall conferences of both sections of the union to discuss the proposals should have been organised before the ballot. Should the rules be defeated, emergency conferences must be called to discuss the reasons why and to propose amendments.

If they are passed, then we would urge all members angry at them to stop paying into the political fund until we no longer give it to a pro-capitalist party. Socialist Party members and others will launch a campaign for changes to the rules, particularly those on political affiliation, for the 2010 rules revision conference. If the union's position on recent industrial disputes is to continue then it must logically take on New Labour, with its anti-trade union laws and its policies on pay and privatisation. This cannot be served by the proposed constitution.

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