THE NATIONAL executive of the Amicus union was told on Wednesday of last week about plans for a three-way merger with the T&G and GMB unions. Almost every executive member knew about the plans in advance—by reading about them in the newspapers.
The position outlined was that the T&G had to merge with Amicus because it wouldn’t survive on its own if the GMB merged with Amicus first. Amicus general secretary Derek Simpson’s vision of the new union was heavy on rhetoric.
There were countless references to making history, opportunities that had to be grasped, and shaking the foundations of the trade union movement.
The vision is of a giant private sector union, with 2.5 million members, £200 million assets and 300 sponsored MPs.
There were two arguments used to justify the merger.
One was that we can’t build the union through recruitment, because we lose members as fast as we recruit them. The other was that we must have a bigger union to have clout with the government and with multinational employers.
Some executive members were unconvinced. There was nothing positive in the merger proposal about recruiting or organising. There was no analysis of how to use the strength of a bigger union to fight for its members.
There wasn’t the slightest criticism of the Labour government.
One executive member asked what was the point of having hundreds of sponsored MPs if all they do is wring their hands and say they can do nothing.
Above all, there was nothing about a union that could in any way be controlled or influenced by its members.
One of the biggest concerns of left activists in Amicus is the onslaught on lay control, and the steady shift of power into the hands of full time officers. It seems likely that the mergers will make this worse.
Most executive members voted in favour of the proposals. The challenge now will be to fight for members’ input into the discussions, real consultation and, if the mergers go ahead, a rule book that gives power back to the membership.
by a leading Amicus activist
DOES A merger between T&G and Amicus strengthen workers in their battles in the workplace and in their wider struggles in society? For the 25 years I have been active in the T&G I have argued that it is better to have one union in an industry because it means the employer cannot play different groups off against each other.
But let’s not fool ourselves. There’s nothing automatic about the members of the same union being encouraged by their leaders to support one another. The Liverpool dockers were left isolated by the T&G leadership. The pressure for this merger is a political imperative to deliver trade unionists for Gordon Brown’s version of New Labourism.
That means pro-business politics but with a bit of rousing rhetoric and with an important role for union leaders as a ballast for the Labour Party.
T&G-Amicus, perhaps with the GMB union, would start to reshape the British trade union movement around two great poles. There would be this super-union and Unison for public sector workers. The TUC would be irrelevant.
How democratic would it be? One idea is that the conference of T&G-Amicus would have just 300 delegates! That’s one for every 7,000 workers!
There are very serious questions about how rank and file workers could hold their reps to account in such a union.
I am very concerned that this merger represents an acceptance that the way unions prosper is by pooling resources in a shrinking market rather than going out aggressively to recruit and organise. I’d much rather there were two or three unions in an industry that were fighting to sign up workers than have a super-union which has a lot of members but doesn’t break into new workers, women workers, immigrant workers, low paid workers.
It was great when the T&G recruited cleaners at Canary Wharf. There should be 100 such campaigns by every union.
The leaders will say T&G-Amicus will spend millions on recruitment, but it’s the mindset not just the budget which matters.
I am against the merger because of its politics and its implications for organising and democracy.
by a T&G official
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