THE ELECTION for the leadership of Britain's second biggest union will start in less than three weeks. There is a fierce battle for the leadership of the AEEU section of the million-strong Amicus union. It was created this year after the AEEU merged with the MSF union.
On one side is Sir Ken Jackson, the current right wing leader. He is Blair's favourite union leader and boasts of having 'more than a foot in the door of Number Ten.' He loves New Labour's privatisation plans and no-strike agreements. His opponent is the left candidate Derek Simpson. He speaks of union members' anger at privatisation.
New Labour will be watching the election closely. The election for AEEU leader involves around 700,000 workers who are mainly based in big manufacturing and engineering plants. These workplaces have been a major source of support for Simpson, helping him become a serious challenge to Jackson.
Simpson has suddenly faced two disciplinary procedures for the first time in 21 years as a full time officer. 'I don't think many people really consider that is just a coincidence,' he told Socialist Worker. 'It's all part of trying to put pressure on me, to sully my name.'
Jackson's supporters have been exposed for dirty election tactics. Full time officials have admitted moving their membership from branch to branch so they could nominate Jackson more than once. They are now doing sales pitches for Jackson at official meetings.
Steve Turner, an AEEU senior shop steward from Marshall's Aerospace in Cambridge, reports, 'Our regional officer turned up to our shop stewards committee supposedly to discuss the impact of the merger that created Amicus. But he started attacking Simpson, saying he was from the far left and it was a bad time to hold an election. I spoke up asking if this was the official AEEU line. I went on at him over PFI and how the government had plenty of money for war.'
The election has forced open a debate about what sort of union the members want. 'When our strike began last year we felt from the start Ken Jackson was out to make sure it didn't go anywhere,' says Scottish Power worker Ray Watt. 'Myself and another Scottish Power worker are planning to take a day off and tour round local workplaces to campaign for Simpson.'
Derek Simpson is urging supporters to act now, as ballot papers will arrive on Monday 24 June. 'I'm on the ballot paper. Now we have a job to do to get the vote out,' says Derek. 'I have been refused space in the union's journal, and they even think they can stop me from going to the union's conference. I want to speak to members there and there are plans to get me into key factories to meet shop stewards' committees.'
Contact Derek for leaflets and posters. Phone 0114 236 1419 or 07803 922 096. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Leaflet AEEU members at factories and workplaces. Contact stewards to find meetings where someone could put Derek's case.
'WE ARE fighting to get our jobs back, and to stop other companies doing what Cook's has done to us.' So says Martin Fiddler, an AEEU union shop steward at one of Cook's foundries in Sheffield.
Some 68 union members are still picketing after the boss sacked the workforce a year ago while they were taking official strike action. 'We hadn't had a pay rise for five years. We had even accepted a pay cut that amounted to £50 a week to help the company out. 'Then our boss said he wanted a further £80 a week cut. We said no.'
The AEEU leadership has left them to industrial tribunals. Martin told Socialist Worker 'Ken Jackson is just about striking deals rather than winning battles, so we haven't had backing from the top end of the union. But Derek Simpson has done everything he could.'