Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 15 December 2006

TGWU merger conference

Build a fighting union

TWO MILLION TGWU and Amicus members are likely to be balloted in early 2007 on creating Britain's largest trade union. If the recalled TGWU biennial delegate conference (BDC) on 19 December votes for merger and members ballot in favour, the new union is aimed to be launched on May Day next year.

Kevin Parslow, Region 1 BDC delegate

The recalled conference was demanded by delegates at the last BDC in July 2005 as an important step in the merger process. However, against the spirit of the BDC decision, delegates, branches and constitutional bodies of the union have not been allowed to submit resolutions and amendments to the documents published by the union as the instruments of merger, although there have been three consultation periods in the TGWU.

Instead, there will be a short resolution which will be debated recommending that the merger be put to a ballot of the TGWU's members throughout Britain and Ireland. We believe that the fullest debate and discussion has been sacrificed for the sake of a symbolic date of merger.

The merger has been presented as creating a 'new' union rather than merging two old ones. Its leading proponents assert that this will release millions of pounds for organising, campaigning and recruitment not previously available.

They also claim the new union will be a force for 'progressive' trade unionism. But this can only be achieved if all layers in the new union, from the rank and file to the full-time officials are prepared to campaign for genuine fighting and socialist policies and put them into practice.


The recent history of trade unions, both in Britain and internationally, is littered with mergers that have failed to live up to the fine words used before their formation.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, warned last year that: "Mergers, in themselves, don't make a single extra member". He is correct, although he probably fears a rival power bloc within the TUC.

Verdi, the merger in 2001 of several service and public-sector unions in Germany, had three million members at its inception. Now it claims only 2.4 million and this figure may be lower still.

Nor does merger guarantee 'progressive' policies. SIPTU, the Irish union formed by the merger of two major unions in 1990, still clings to the idea of 'social partnership' in Ireland. This is in reality wage restraint to help the so-called 'Celtic tiger' continue to make big profits at the expense of its workers.

And in Britain itself, could members of UNISON say that the merger of three unions has made it a fighting union? Only the struggles of thousands of rank-and-file UNISON members, in local government, the NHS and elsewhere, will really begin to move the union as a whole in a militant, fighting direction.

The new union will be run as two sections until the end of 2008, when new rules will be brought in. Until then a joint executive committee will discuss matters of common interest based on parity between the two unions.

A similarly constituted rules committee will produce the full constitution. But, in a worryingly undemocratic move, the proposed rules will not be discussed and amended at conference but will go directly out to ballots of the membership. The first Rules Conference of a new union will be in 2010.

There are other problems in the proposals. Full-time officials, apart from the general secretary, will be appointed, meaning sections of Amicus will lose their rights to elect full-timers. The new executive committee will have a three-year term, unlike the two years in the TGWU at the moment, although it will be comprised of lay members.

Scandalously, given the pro-big business stance of New Labour despite the millions of pounds poured into the party by the trade unions since 1997, the new constitution more solidly enshrines affiliation to the Labour Party than the current TGWU rules.

However, these are balanced by significant gains and retentions of rights. Branches will be formed on the TGWU model, based on workplaces or localities. They will have a large amount of political, organisational and financial autonomy, more than branches in Amicus have at the present time. There will be regional and trade group structures, with elected committees.

The proposal to set up 'Area Activists Committees', allowing local organisation of workers in the same industry to come together, will be welcomed by members of both unions, so long as they are not bureaucratically controlled from the top. They must be allowed to take on flesh and shop stewards must be given every assistance to develop committees and other forms of organisation.

The Socialist Party is in favour of the deepest and broadest amount of workers' unity, between workers in different unions and sometimes in the same union. But that does not mean we support mergers at all costs.

If the proposed structures in a merged union significantly eroded democratic rights, organising capabilities and imposed centralised power in unelected and unaccountable officials over the membership, then we would have to oppose merger. It would be wrong for us to simply accept 'unity' as the basis for a rotten deal.

However, on balance, this merger, despite the objections raised above, can be supported. The erosion of some democratic channels, including the election of officials, will have to be fought again by activists from both unions. What will be crucial in ensuring the success of a new union is the development of fighting sections to transform it.

The struggle at Visteon in Swansea, where members of the TGWU and Amicus are fighting together to end a three-tier pay scale, the transfer of work away from the plant and even its possible closure, shows that it is possible to counterpose militant action to the 'concession bargaining' strategy that too many general secretaries and national officers have advocated over the last decade.

The right wing dismiss any idea that it is possible to resist the 'race to the bottom' while the so-called left leaders merely believe that our task is to slow it! However, to maintain the living standards of themselves and their families, workers have no option but to resist.

Struggles like this will give an impetus to all layers in the new union to build it and transform it, not just into a vehicle to defend workers' interests but one that can really fight to transform society in a socialist direction.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 15 December 2006:

NHS Crisis: Turn anger into action

Teachers support day of action against health cuts

QEH Hospital - a victim of privatisation

NHS news

War and terrorism

Frankenstein kills out of control monster

Violence against women

Ipswich murders lifts lid on violent world

Workplace news and analysis

PCS: Vote 'Yes' against job cuts and low pay

Heroic struggle scores victory for Visteon workers

Victory for Glasgow's Council Workers in the Fight for Protection

Special feature

Privatisation, but not as we know it

Socialist Party Marxist analysis

The wealth gap widens

International socialist news and analysis

Good riddance to the 'butcher of Chile'


JOHN HAMILTON Blairites re-write history

Socialist Party news and analysis

Private companies rule - and ruin

BNP fiasco but vigilance essential

Workplace analysis

TWGU merger: Build a fighting union

Mass meeting prepares for action

Protesting against fare increases

Leeds workers on strike to defend pensions

The Socialist Xmas quiz

The Socialist quiz


Home   |   The Socialist 15 December 2006   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:


trianglePoverty, repression and fightback on the docks

triangleReview: 'On the Track' by Bill Mullins


triangleWorkplace news in brief

triangleLeaked pay deal: fight for a genuine pay rise

triangleToys R Us, Maplin: worsening retail crisis claims more jobs

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns



Refugee Rights campaigners on the 17.3.18 anti-racism demo - pics


Socialist Party

Socialist Party congress 2018



Strike continues: set dates for next national action


Socialist Party

Members dig deep into their pockets to support the party


North West

Campaigners continue to demand Chorley A&E is fully reopened



Swansea Labour council votes for cuts



Derby public meeting: Women's Lives Matter



Seeing-off the bigoted, billionaire toff!



Continuing the fighting tradition of working class women



Workplace news in brief



Leicester: Blairites block Labour Party democracy



Leaked pay deal: fight for a genuine pay rise



We feel that we will win - a striker speaks



Woolwich ferry workers win automation campaign



UCU strike: bosses on the run

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0191 421 6230

North West 07769 611 320

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551



Alphabetical listing

March 2018

February 2018

January 2018