Some 30 Amicus members lobbied the March meeting of the Amicus National Executive Council (NEC) in protest at the sacking of three Amicus employees: Des Heemskerk, Jimmy Warne and Cathie Willis. The three were suspended from their jobs in Amicus in mid-September of last year. All three are leading members of “Amicus Unity Gazette”, the broad left grouping in Amicus.
Des Heemskerk is a former Deputy Convenor at Fords. Until recently he was the Amicus Unity Gazette editor.
Jimmy Warne is a former shop steward at Swan Hunter. He was a prominent member of the Gazette group on the Executive of the AEEU. Until recently he was the chair of Amicus Unity Gazette.
Cathie Willis worked for Amicus, and its AEEU predecessor, for eight years. When Ken Jackson was AEEU General Secretary Cathie suffered victimisation because her husband was a prominent steward in the construction industry and a leading supporter of the left. Cathie also played a prominent role in Derek Simpson’s election as Amicus General Secretary.
The Amicus Three, who, as union employees, are members of the GMB, were suspended the day after last September’s meeting of the Amicus NEC. At that meeting Simpson had launched a tirade against the amicus.cc website (the “alternative” website about the internal machinations in Amicus), denounced “former friends out to get me”, and claimed that his leadership and the union as a whole were at risk of being destabilised.
The NEC meeting authorised Simpson to “take the necessary steps” to “investigate the source of the defamatory allegations and unauthorised disclosure and circulation of internal union documents.” This referred to material which had recently appeared on the amicus.cc website concerning the so-called “Baylissgate” affair, involving Amicus Assistant General Secretary Les Bayliss.
The following day Des, Jimmy and Cathie were suspended.
The suspension and subsequent sacking of the Amicus Three are part of a broader move by Simpson and his closest supporters to consolidate their grip on the union’s structures and to stifle dissenting voices.
The first sign of the clampdown came back in late 2004 when one member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) who sat on the union’s General Purposes and Finances Committee and four members of the SWP who sat on the union’s NEC were banned from attending the Amicus Unity Gazette pre-NEC caucus meetings.
Their “crime” was to have breached Amicus Unity Gazette discipline. The Gazette had backed Simpson’s position that the NEC should “repudiate” an industrial dispute then underway at Wembley. The SWP members voted against repudiation at the NEC.
A few months later the North-West region of the Gazette expelled four of its supporters (two of whom, Jane Stewart and Ian Allison, were also members of the union’s NEC) for the “crime” of having breached the Gazette region’s discipline.
The North-West region of the Gazette mandates its supporters before national meetings of the Gazette. In this instance, the four expelled supporters had voted at a national Gazette meeting to uphold the Gazette’s national policy of supporting the election of all union full-time officials, whereas the position of the North-West region was to fall in behind Simpson by dropping support for implementation of the policy.
In the late summer of last year Simpson then began to turn his guns on the amicus.cc website, threatening various forms of legal action and internal disciplinary procedures against those involved in it. It was at this stage that the suspension of the Amicus Three occurred.
In February of this year, at the Gazette’s Annual General Meeting, Simpson’s supporters managed to gain control of Amicus Unity Gazette itself.
All of the above – the suspension and sacking of the Amicus Three, the abandonment of the commitment to electing full-time officials, the expulsions from Amicus Unity Gazette, and now the takeover of the Gazette — are part of a bigger picture: the New Union.
Amicus, the TGWU and the GMB are currently engaged in merger negotiations. The question at the heart of the merger is the extent to which the New Union will be subject to democratic rank-and-file control.
As is the case with the TGWU and the GMB, Simpson is certainly prepared to pay lip-service to the idea of a “lay-membership-led” new union. His practice, however, is very much to concentrate the real powers of decision-making within his inner cabinet, and to stamp down on those elements within the union – whether it be the Amicus Three, the Left within the Gazette, or the amicus.cc website – who are seen to be a threat to his control.
The demand for re-instatement of the Amicus Three is therefore part of a more general campaign to maintain democratic norms within Amicus, and to ensure that, if the planned merger goes ahead, it does so on the basis of lay-membership control.
• A longer version of this article can be found on www.workersliberty.org