Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/325/9446
Amicus executive elections: Fighting For The Members
JOHN BARR is a Socialist Party member who is a candidate for the Amicus national executive. John is part of the Amicus Unity Gazette list slate for the NEC elections. He spoke to the socialist about the significance of the union's current elections.
"Obviously Derek Simpson's election as general secretary last year broke the stranglehold of the hard right in the AEU side of the union and removed Tony Blair's favourite trade unionist, Sir Ken Jackson. Now, there's a chance for the Left and the members to reclaim the union from the bureaucrats by supporting Simpson's demands for bringing back branch democracy, regional democracy and the election of full-time officials.
The Left generally has more nominations than the right-wing candidates for the executive, which is an indication of support. In my own constituency I had twice the nominations of the right-wing candidate.
The careerists like holding onto their seats and the right wing are running two slates - the AEU United right-wing faction and the MSF for Labour are both standing their own slates - while the Left has managed to unite around a common programme of democratising the union.
The Left is also campaigning to defend final salary pension schemes, which has been an issue in Rolls-Royce, where there was the threat of strike action on it, and at Corus. At Rodhia, where there was a strike on the issue, the company were forced to concede there would be no change to the final salary pension scheme until 2012 at the earliest.
We also want an end to sweetheart deals signed by the old MSF and AEU leaderships. Even at Nissan in the North-East, portrayed as a model of the sweetheart deal, the workers there have nominated left-wing candidates and are threatening strike action.
The situation in the union now is more favourable after the election of Simpson. The union is taking up the issue of the loss of manufacturing jobs and is not going on TV to defend the government, like the old leadership did.
They are now coming out more positively in favour of what the members want rather than what the government or the employers want.
Personally, in the sector I work in (the not-for-profit sector) only about 15% of the workers are in unions, split evenly between Amicus, UNISON and the TGWU. There's 85% of that sector who should and could be organised into unions; low pay is endemic in that sector.
Also the non-profit sector is being used for backdoor privatisation of the welfare state. Services and staff are being outsourced to non-profit organisations. Also within the non-profit sector, outsourcing has become rife. Careers Research Advisory Centre is about to derecognise the union, who were outsourced there from the Work Foundation. The members at the RSPCA came very close to taking strike action against the outsourcing of their call centre operation and the loss of 300 jobs.
ANOTHER SIGNIFICANT issue is the government's opt-out for faith-based organisations. The new European legislation on sexual orientation means that organisations that base themselves on faith -such as Jewish Care, National Children's Home (who have Methodist origins), Church of England Children's Society will be able to discriminate against workers who are lesbian or gay.
I think that the majority of Amicus activists still support links with the Labour Party on the grounds that they don't want the Tories back. This is because it is a predominantly private-sector union, which hasn't experienced the same direct attacks on our membership from the government as say public-sector workers will have experienced.
There isn't a massive mood towards re-examining the link with the Labour Party at present. But in the public-sector part of the union, which has over 100,000 members, that question has now started to be raised, particularly around issues like Agenda for Change in the NHS where a lot of people will lose out.
Personally, I think we need to review the Labour Party funding. Our union pays over £1 million a year and I don't think we've got anything of real value for it. It's been a waste of money.
A mood is also developing on pay. Amicus members at Sellafield have taken action on pay for the first time in 30 years.
Pay has been squashed in large chunks of the private sector. Workers at the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, also members of Amicus, are similarly taking action over pay.
The Left must have a strategy to save jobs which hasn't been discussed a great deal until now. So far the Left's campaign has been mainly about democratising the union, which is obviously important.
But, 50% of the membership work in manufacturing and there are 2,500 jobs or more being lost in this sector every week. We have to look at the question of renationalising sectors of the economy.
In The Socialist 29 November 2003: