Delegates met at the sector conferences of the Amicus section of the Unite union in Brighton last week.
Hundreds of reps from the public and private sector met to debate the way forward for their members.
Derek Simpson, Unite joint general secretary, addressed a gathering of all the delegates attending each day.
Delegates raised criticisms of the government’s refusal to support trade unions. Unite is Labour’s biggest donor.
A recurring theme was Unite’s uniquely powerful position to influence government policy and delegates asked the union to apply more pressure.
Simpson responded to one delegate that he didn’t believe that it was appropriate for the union “to hold the government to ransom” over funding, complaining that the media would have a field day.
Although very critical of New Labour and Gordon Brown, Simpson accepted that delegates were more angry. He suggested that maybe it was time to be firmer with the government.
There were many positive decisions taken by reps at the conferences. Health reps voted to campaign to reject the government’s three-year pay proposals and to defend the NHS.
Aerospace reps voted unanimously for the union to demand government intervention to save plants from closure and to oppose redundancies.
A national pay campaign has been launched in the financial services sector. Reps in the electrical engineering, electronics and IT sector voted to campaign for a shorter working week and to tackle climate change.
The union has also pledged to support the Unite Against Fascism (UAF) demonstration against the Nazi BNP in London on 21 June. Derek Simpson urged members to go on the demo.
A team of UAF helpers ensured that delegates had leaflets and posters to take back to work and help build the demonstration.
Unfortunately, the conference was also marked by attacks on the left.
Simpson attacked those from Amicus on the new Unite executive council who had voted for a left wing candidate for chair of the union and to make the union’s leaders more accountable to the members.
This attack was stepped up by Simpson’s supporters at the aerospace sector conference when they moved a vote of confidence against executive council member Neil Sheehan.
They suffered a major defeat when the conference voted to reject this by 42 votes to 39 with nine abstentions.
The union machine failed to silence the left in Unite against the leadership’s attempt to have complete control in the new union.
There is now a genuine prospect of creating a new united left, bringing together people from Amicus and the T&G, independent of the general secretaries and with real influence across the union.