DELEGATES gathered in Blackpool for the last AEEU engineers' and electricians' union conference last week. The union is to officially merge with the MSF union to form Britain's second biggest union, Amicus.
Amicus-AEEU has seen dramatic changes over the last year. Left winger Derek Simpson beat Sir Ken Jackson in the general secretary elections last July. Jackson and his right wing machine had controlled the union with an iron fist. The conference had none of the debates over issues like the war on Iraq or the political fund that have characterised other unions' conferences.
The executive kept argument to a minimum by asking anyone who put forward a motion they disagreed with to remit it. On every occasion the delegates did so. The executive remains dominated by figures from the Jackson era. Many of them give the impression they have shifted after Jackson's defeat. Derek Simpson praised these people.
But for the majority of delegates the conference was a breath of fresh air. The main issues discussed were the haemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs, the pensions crisis and the need for a corporate manslaughter law.
'British manufacturing will see 18,000 jobs lost this year,' said Kenny Jordan. 'Much of the manufacturing erosion is due to government policies. We have to fight to retain UK jobs and combat government inaction.' The union plans to organise a lobby of the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth this September over manufacturing job losses.
In a moving speech about the number of workplace deaths, left wing executive member Jimmy Craigie said, 'I have been faced with so many shattered girlfriends, children, mothers, grandparents who I have had to tell that their son, brother, husband has been killed at work. There are 400 people killed at work every year in this country. The only thing that will improve the lives of people is if the directors involved are jailed for murder. There is a desperate need for legislation. The employers are already lobbying for a fudge.'
Graham Goddard is a worker at the UEF company where union members are balloting for industrial action against the winding up of their final salary pension scheme.
He said, 'Pensions are deferred wages. If we'd had wage cuts the size of pension cuts there'd have been more of an outcry. Across Europe people have been on strike against pension cuts. That's what we ought to be doing.'
Michael Thomas said, 'If we had £3 billion to waste on war on Iraq we can afford decent pensions.' Despite the anxiety delegates stressed over these issues, the majority of AEEU delegates still want to believe Labour can represent them.
Both chancellor Gordon Brown and chair of the Labour Party Ian McCartney got standing ovations. Derek Simpson made clear his opposition to any criticism of the union's links with New Labour: 'There's a breath of fresh air blowing through the trade union movement. We need to use that to revitalise the labour movement and the government. We cannot go to the excesses of calling for funds to be withdrawn from the Labour Party. We have to use our strength to rein in the rest of the union movement. We need stronger bonds between ourselves and the Labour Party.'
Simpson addressed around 150 Amicus-AEEU members at a fringe meeting of the left wing Amicus Unity Gazette on Thursday lunchtime. This is the united left which is standing candidates in the forthcoming executive elections to make sure Amicus represents its members.
THE conference over the joint rules of the MSF and AEEU sections of Amicus voted by around three to one to accept the rule book of the Amicus union on Tuesday of last week. Many delegates were concerned about the implications for democracy of the new rule book.
FOUNDRY workers from the William Cook's dispute in Sheffield collected over £1,000 at last week's Amicus conference. Sacked in 2001 after taking official strike action, some 37 workers face the result of an employment tribunal in July.
'If we were to lose this it would open up the floodgates,' Eddie Grimes told Socialist Worker. 'Management wanted to cut wages and make us work longer.' Eddie is also standing on the left slate for the executive.
Send messages of support and donations to the William Cook's strikers to 116 Richmond Park Crescent, Sheffield S13 8HG.