Unite, formed by the merger of the unions Amicus and TGWU, has put the merger on hold and called an Amicus general secretary election rather than, as planned, having Derek Simpson go straight through to 2010 as Amicus general secretary and Joint General Secretary of Unite. Jerry Hicks, who is contesting the general secretary election, spoke to David Kirk from Solidarity. We invite readers to contribute to a discussion on the issues raised by Jerry.
Q: Why are you standing against Derek Simpson for Amicus general secretary?
A: I made the judgement that it was wrong and illegal to have a General Secretary in post for eight years without an election.
Q: What do you think of Derek Simpson’s record as general secretary?
A: Simpson is disappointing. At first, when he tackled Sir Ken Jackson for the top job, he seem willing to stand up to government, but he was seduced very quickly. He has gone from berating the government to begging from them. This is proved by his “demand“ for a windfall tax on energy companies. There never was any intention of any follow-through to force the government to implement this policy.
Q: What do you think is the main issue facing the unions today?
A: If we are to be taken seriously as a force by governments and employers we need to be credible in our willingness to stand up to them. We need to throw away the begging bowl and start to demand changes.
Q: What are the main points of the platform you will be running on?
A: Public ownership not private profit; this means genuine public ownership of the utilities for instance. I would support a massive public works programme to combat unemployment. I also think a serious a green energy policy would create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Q: Amicus’s policy on energy supports “clean coal” and nuclear energy. Would you include these as part of your green energy policy?
A: I am not a particular expert on the different renewable technologies. However I think we should base our policies on proven technologies, and carbon capture has not yet been proved. I am also deeply impressed by the United Steelworkers in America, whose energy policy is based on wave, wind and solar energy.
Q: What problems do you see with democracy in Unite, and how would you challenge them?
A: The challenge I am making is an attempt to argue about democracy in the union. For four months I hope to be raising the issues about how the union is run.
Q: People have criticised you because of the way you went to the Certification Office to overturn a democratically decided rule book. What do you say to this criticism?
A: The rule book was voted in on a turnout of 17%, but by a large majority of those who voted. However what people were voting for was the idea of merger. The rulebook contained an illegality which was not drawn out in the debates at the time. If people had been aware of this illegal and undemocratic extension of the general secretary’s term in office they would not have voted for it.
Q: What do you think of Laurence Faircloth, who has announced he is going to run against you?
A. I have no axe to grind against Laurence Faircloth. Although I have never met him I have heard that he is a decent regional official. He says that the union is in a mess, but he doesn’t say when or why it became a mess. He didn’t stand up about what was going on in the union before this election.
There also is a contradiction in thinking the union is in a mess, but also saying we should wait until 2010 to have an election to decide how to sort that mess out.
It seems likely, as well, that my opponents will take the full salary if they become general secretary. However if I am elected I plan to take only the average worker’s wage. This is not to court voters, but because I believe that general secretaries and other officials should live like their members and not like bosses and overpaid bankers.
Q: You were a member of the SWP and now support Respect Renewal. Amicus has been one of the largest donors to the Labour Party. How do you think Unite should relate to the Labour Party?
A: I was a member of the Labour Party until 1992, and then I was a member of the SWP until last year, when I left quite publicly. However, despite my political history, I do not call for disaffiliation from the Labour Party. Instead we should no longer shower Labour with money. We should only support councillors, candidates and MPs who consistantly support union policies and not those who vote for further privatisation and against the repeal of the anti trade union laws.
Weblinks: Jerry Hicks