I TOOK part in a two-day tour of aerospace factories two weeks ago with Derek Simpson, who defeated Sir Ken Jackson to become general secretary of the AEEU section of the Amicus union.
We all wanted the chance to discuss how the union moves forward. If one statement captured the mood of the tour it was that of the Dowty Aerospace convenor who said, 'In 28 years we've never seen a national official in this factory, let alone a general secretary. What a breath of fresh air!' Derek was taken to Rolls-Royce for a meeting of shop stewards.
It was excellent, with around 40 stewards covering the internal and external politics of the union. Derek said, 'Amicus needs to be at the very front of campaigns for workers' rights and the protection of jobs. 'It's been all too easy for employers to sack workers and close factories, wrecking the lives of thousands. That has to change. When members need the union they should be confident that the union will be there for them.' Derek then walked through the factory.
The management was not pleased that the most militant section of the factory was escorting the general secretary round! The afternoon was supposed to be spent with BAe Filton, but on the advice of the convenor, Bill Bowery, this was cancelled.
It seems the company was so impressed to have the general secretary wanting to visit that it decided a whole day would have to be put aside for him - in the future. Derek was invited to a meeting hosted by the TGWU union office. There were around 50 stewards and activists there from various unions and workplaces.
The debate covered how Amicus needs to be a progressive, campaigning union, constantly assessing the value of 'partnership' with the bosses and of privatisation. The next day we headed off to Smiths Aerospace in Cheltenham. Pensions was one of the top priorities for the 12 stewards and members there. Derek spelt out how a combination of employers' eagerness to prop up profits and weak legislation meant that pensions were increasingly under threat.
Our next stop was nearby Dowty Aerospace, where 12 people were waiting. A common theme of concerns was obvious. We all face the same problems - job insecurity, and the need to defend pensions and advance employment rights through campaigning and legislation.
Our final factory visit was to GE Aero Engines Nantgarw near Cardiff. We were greeted with another round of cut and thrust debate with some 20 people. To sum up the tour, we need and deserve a union that leads from the front, that campaigns and is progressive. It should question the government and challenge employers.
It should also keep both eyes on the membership and pride itself on democracy. Big challenges face us. Having booted out Ken Jackson, the campaign continues to reshape the union.