ONE OF Blairism's last outposts in the trade union movement received a major blow last weekend. Delegates gathered for the last ever MSF union conference as it is about to complete its merger with the AEEU union to form Amicus. They narrowly voted to affiliate to the Stop the War Coalition.
This was despite strong opposition from the union leadership. MSF leaders are committed to the Blair government and many of its policies at home and abroad. MSF general secretary Roger Lyons outraged activists in the union when he sent out a letter as war began in Iraq, telling branches not to be involved in the coalition.
The conference overwhelmingly backed a motion condemning the war and calling for the immediate withdrawal of US and British troops. Even the national executive felt forced to back it 'with reservations' because it 'couldn't be opposed'. But it refused to hear of any support for the Stop the War Coalition. National executive member John Gardner said the coalition had 'achieved its aims' so should now be wound up.
Delegates were determined to rebut these arguments. 'It seems to me that the MSF can be portrayed as a pro-war union,' said Raymond Morrell from London. 'Roger Lyons has repeated the lies of Tony Blair on the war. That's the reality of partnership with the government.' 'The war was founded on deceit,' said Pat Mortimer from London. 'Millions marched against it. The war was cooked up with the connivance of the Labour government. It was the most humiliating thing I've had in the many years of Labour Party membership.'
Pete Gillard told the conference, 'The US government are talking about a permanent war against 'rogue states'.' 'It is talking about who is next. This union needs to be part of stopping Bush and Blair's drive to war in the future.'
Some 70 delegates attended a Stop the War Coalition meeting addressed by Jim Mortimer, the former general secretary of the Labour Party.
In another significant move conference voted to campaign against New Labour's Agenda for Change pay deal in the NHS if it is not funded properly. Agenda for Change will lead to pay cuts for a number of health workers. MSF members voted for it to be run as a trial in 12 hospitals in a recent ballot. 'There is a growing awareness of the problems with this deal,' said Gill George from London.
'The biggest issue is that members are facing pay cuts. Clinical psychologists could have their pay cut by 23 percent. Our union has tried to sell this as a good deal. Members are now finding out that the union has sold pay cuts. We cannot afford to let our members down.'
'Health workers are losing out through this deal,' said Theresa Marrinan from Leeds, 'Government is not prepared to fund the deal. It is shoving through modernisation - low pay, flexibility, longer hours. 'We cannot accept the money isn't there. New Labour signed a blank cheque for the war.'
Delegates also voted to oppose foundation hospitals, which introduce a two-tier NHS. They voted to continue campaigning against the closure of companies' final salary pension schemes and for restoring the link between pensions and earnings. Delegates gave a standing ovation to Amicus joint general secretary Derek Simpson on Monday.
He ousted Blair's favourite union leader Ken Jackson in last year's election to become AEEU leader. 'We face massive challenges,' he said. 'These require a massive response. 'Our members want security in employment and retirement. They want to feel they are in an organisation that stands up for them. Amicus is not an organisation that has been cobbled together to apologise for politicians and to be sympathetic to employers. We have to give a lead to the British trade union movement.'
The left of both sections of the new union are uniting to stand a joint slate in the national executive elections set for the autumn to ensure Amicus is a fighting, democratic union.
Oppose racism and...
CONFERENCE pledged its support to fight for equal rights for immigrant workers. In a moving speech Bill Harvey, from Basildon, said, 'We have to understand why workers travel thousands of miles to seek work in Britain. They are the victims of multinationals and capitalism. I see them where I work in construction at Canary Wharf. Workers from Yugoslavia, Latin America and Africa stand and wait for work every day. Someone comes out and says, 'You've got work today. The rest can go away.' Young women from all over the world dress up as lads to get work. 'There is nowhere else for these people to go for comfort except British trade unionism.'
...stand up to the BNP
ROGER LYONS committed the union to campaigning against the rise of the Nazi BNP. He travelled to Burnley on Sunday afternoon to show solidarity with community activists standing up against the eight BNP councillors there.
'We are ensuring that our workplace reps in Burnley have the information to combat racist lies and rumours,' Lyons told an anti-racist meeting on Sunday evening. 'The BNP is getting too big for its nasty Nazi boots. If we don't start now, we could look back in horror at the next general election. Let's work together in kicking racism out of our communities.'