Over 800 delegates gathered in Brighton last weekend for the first national conference of the 1.2 million strong Amicus union.
The union leadership hailed Labour’s “historic victory” in the election, claiming that the Warwick Agreement signed between union leaders and New Labour last year would deliver a “radical third term” for working people.
Most delegates shared these hopes for Labour’s future — but they expressed their disillusion with the party’s record in office so far.
Delegates criticised the government for failing to save jobs at Rover in Birmingham, for presiding over the loss of a million manufacturing jobs, and for trying to preserve Britain’s opt-out from European working hours directives.
Amicus has been making moves towards a merger with the T&G and GMB unions to create a “super union”.
Derek Simpson, Amicus’s general secretary, said unions needed to merge into larger blocs in order to combat the power of multinationals in a globalised world. This included mergers on the international level, he said.
At one point Simpson was asked why he didn’t put more emphasis on organising to increase the power and numbers of the union.
He replied, “Organising alone will do nothing to solve the industrial crisis we face. What’s the point in having 100 members in a factory if it closes down?”
The Amicus conference passed a strong motion against the occupation of Iraq, calling for British troops to be brought back by December.
This contrasts with the stance taken by the union leadership at the Labour Party conference last September, when Simpson and others voted for the Blairite motion on Iraq.
Unfortunately the conference narrowly voted against affiliating to the Stop the War Coalition. The motion to affiliate was defeated by 305 to 278, following a direct intervention by Simpson.
He stated, “At the last Labour conference we were confronted with the opportunity to bring down the Labour government. Regime change would have occurred here if we had been affiliated to the Stop the War Coalition.”
But Amicus did pass hard motions against the fascist British National Party, in defence of asylum seekers, for a shorter working week and against privatisation. These are policies that, if they are carried through, will bring the union into conflict with New Labour as Tony Blair steers the government on an ever more right wing course.
“It has become Amicus policy to repeal all the anti-union laws and restore the link between pensions and earnings,” commented Jerry Hicks, a member of the Amicus national executive speaking in a personal capacity.
“We also voted to demand the renationalisation of the railways, after the national executive recognised that the overwhelming feeling of conference was behind it.”