MEMBERS OF Amicus, the second biggest union in Britain, are getting set for national executive elections that could transform the union. The merger of the MSF and AEEU unions will be completed on 1 January 2004. Right wing leaderships have dominated both unions for years.
Roger Lyons is general secretary of MSF and until last year Sir Ken Jackson, Tony Blair's favourite trade unionist, controlled the AEEU. Both prioritised partnership with the bosses and New Labour over representing their members. The election victory of left winger Derek Simpson over Jackson in July last year sent shock waves through the union movement.
It was another victory for the new generation of left winger union leaders named the 'awkward squad' by the media. Amicus has over one million members in engineering, manufacturing, the health service, construction and other sectors. Amicus members are deeply worried about the crisis in manufacturing, the attacks on their final salary pension schemes, privatisation of the NHS and the horrific scale of deaths in the construction industry. The left wing Amicus Unity Gazette group is standing a full slate for the elections to the joint national executive, planned for November.
The right wing in both unions have also come together to stand a joint slate to try to retain their control over the new union. Gill George works in the NHS in London and is standing for a health service seat. She told Socialist Worker: 'These elections will set the future direction of the union. The election of Derek Simpson was a breath of fresh air. The old leadership wanted the new union to be the most Blairite in the TUC. In the NHS the right wing leadership does whatever Blair wants despite health workers being under attack. Unless we challenge foundation hospitals and privatisation the NHS itself is under threat. The new union has around 70,000 members in the NHS. Privatisation means worse services for the public and worse pay for workers. Every year members vote to oppose privatisation. Every year the leadership don't do anything about it. The union is at a crossroads. People want their leadership to be democratic, accountable, fighting for members and challenging New Labour. Our slate offers change. It is urgent that union reps organise meetings in their workplaces to nominate the industrial candidates for the slate. People also need to attend branch meetings to nominate regional and the women's seats candidates.'
Eddie Grimes is one of the William Cook's strikers from Sheffield. He was sacked for striking and has been campaigning for justice for the last two years. Eddie is standing in the foundry section. He said, 'We need to give the unions back to the rank and file. Unions are for the members, not one or two people at the top. Some of the anti trade union laws have to be repealed. The union has been stagnant too long. We've got to move forward. The 'awkward squad' is the majority squad. If we don't get a new national executive Derek Simpson will struggle to get through all the things he promised. People are still disillusioned under New Labour. We've got to do something to change it. The first thing to do is get the union how we want it and then go forward.'
Billy Speirs works in construction and is one of the left wing members of the AEEU national executive. He told Socialist Worker, 'I am a supporter of Derek Simpson. I was one of the six people who walked out of the executive meeting when Jackson and his supporters tried to overturn the decision of the members to elect Simpson. Jackson wasn't for the members. His supporters now call themselves Members First. In all my years sitting on the executive with them they never mentioned the members once. There will be interference from all around in these elections. 'I'd love to return a majority for the left in these elections.'
Jane Stewart is a senior negotiator of Amicus-MSF at the Unilever plant in Port Sunlight. She is standing for one of the women's seats. She says, 'The election of Derek Simpson is a golden opportunity to change the direction of the union. The tide is turning. The threat to members' pensions and the fact that women are still paid less than men are big issues for me. Roger Lyons doesn't do anything effective about any of these issues. The stand the MSF took over the war on Iraq was disgraceful. The leaders told us we couldn't affiliate to the Stop the War Coalition and that this was the position of the TUC. They'd just made it up. Conference after conference overturns him but he just ignores it. The union shouldn't cosy up to the government. It should challenge them.'
Sergio Requena-Reuda works at Marconi in Coventry. He was imprisoned in Chile under General Pinochet's right wing regime for his political beliefs. He is standing in the electronics/ telecoms sector. He said, 'I have been active in the trade unions since I arrived in Britain in 1977. I have always been dedicated to fighting for the members. I am passionate about defending manufacturing jobs. We are losing jobs. The union needs an independent voice, not just compromise with the government.'
For a full list of candidates and more information go to www.amicusunitygazette.com