Derek Simpson, one of Gordon Brown’s favourite trade unionists, has narrowly won the election for general secretary of the Amicus section of the Unite union.
Simpson pulled 60,048 votes (38 percent), while left wing candidate Jerry Hicks came second with a very good vote of 39,307 (25 percent).
The two right wing candidates came bottom. Kevin Coyne, who Rupert Murdoch’s Times newspaper had thrown its weight behind, won 30,603 votes (19 percent).
Paul Reuter, the union’s national officer for Royal Mail managers, got 28,283 (18 percent). The turnout was low – just 14.5 percent of the section’s 1.1 million members voted.
Even though he won, Simpson’s vote is a disaster for him. It is much lower than the almost 90,000 votes he got in 2002 when he won the post of general secretary in the old AEEU section of the union. Amicus is more than twice as large as the AEEU was.
Simpson was elected in 2002 on the promise of resisting the bosses and government’s attacks on workers. But he has since moved to the right.
He is an enthusiastic supporter of giving millions of pounds of members’ money to the Labour Party – with no strings attached. He has become one of Gordon Brown’s most reliable backers within the trade union movement.
A letter from Simpson was sent to every Amicus member during the recent election campaign. His face was emblazoned on the front page of Unite’s magazine. But this did not save him from the humiliation of only just scraping to victory.
New Labour ministers will be celebrating the result. Financial Times journalist Jim Pickard commented, “Simpson’s survival is good news for the Labour Party as he is seen by ministers as more of an unstinting loyalist to the leadership than Tony Woodley, co-head of Unite.
“The next question is who will replace the two men as single leader of Britain’s biggest union in a process which starts next year.”
The size of the vote for Jerry Hicks shows the mood that exists among members for a left wing and fighting trade union.
If the left in Amicus had united behind Hicks instead of a number backing Simpson, the left vote would have been even higher.
The results also show the possibility of electing a left wing candidate as general secretary of Unite in next year’s election.
The United Left, which brings together the left in both the Amicus and T&G sections of Unite, should use this result to shape resistance to the recession – and to build an organised left current inside the merged union.