We need unions that serve the members
Sanjay Sirikanth, GMB member
With the recent takeover of the print union GPMU and the forthcoming acquisition of banking union UNIFI, AMICUS is fast becoming the union of choice for trade union bureaucrats seeking to secure their pension funds by pushing merger through their union Executives.
The TUC appears to be backing this AMICUS campaign and complaints from members in both GPMU and UNIFI point to large amounts of time and money being invested in getting the "right" result out of membership votes - that is, the one that suits the suits.
The TUC has made no bones about the fact that the £10 million it received from Blair earlier this year to "modernise" the unions will be used to encourage the growth of a small number of "super-unions". If the TUC and the likes of AMICUS get their way these super unions will no doubt end up Labour friendly, committed to industrial partnership and focussed on delivering personal services not organising for collective action.
Left trade union leaders must organise and co-ordinate our response to this challenge. First we need to be clear about the role the TUC is playing in the unions. Far from representing the union point of view within government, it has become Blair's policeman and representative within the unions: delivering money, political support and partnership deals for Labour on a wide range of issues. Now Blair wants fewer union leaders, with deeper pockets, and the TUC obliges.
Any union member who has ever been through a merger can recite the bureaucrat mantra by heart - "vote for the merger for a stronger voice at work". Few have ever seen this materialise and many recent mergers including the creation of UNISON and PCS merely accelerated the process of taking the unions away from the members control.
The next prime target for merger is probably the crisis ridden general union, the GMB. Having cleared the £30 million debts left to it by John Edmonds, the union is now 150 officials lighter and has sold every one of its remaining assets to stay afloat. Worse, the decline in membership in the de-industrialising north shows no sign of slackening and the current leader has so far presented no strategy for turning the union around. It is unlikely the GMB can survive long on its own with such a tradition of abysmal leadership.
GMB General Secretary Kevin Curran appears to be pursuing talks with both TGWU and AMICUS at present. Presumably part of his calculation will be which union will offer the best package for him and the band of cronies he has appointed since his election last year. Rumour has it he has been promised Derek Simpson's' job in the newly merged union if he delivers up the GMB's 600,000 members.
If takeover is inevitable many active members and leading officials in the GMB would support a merger with TGWU on political and industrial grounds. With the massive explosion in the UK economy of temporary, low paid McJobs and with workers taking 2 or 3 jobs just to survive, workers in the UK need a large, powerful fighting general union like they never have before. A merged GMB and TGWU, despite the many faults of both unions, would be a more effective force for these workers than a super union made in the TUC's image and acting in the interests of Blair.
The bureaucrats in the GMB, AMICUS and TUC may well have put the issue of mergers on the table. But socialists in the unions should take this opportunity to campaign for union mergers that create unions that are relevant to working people today, and that put power and authority over union policy back in the hands of the members. We need unions who will reject the nonsense of industrial partnership and spend members' money on organising campaigns aimed at giving workers the chance to take on their employers and win a bigger share of the profits they produce.
Most important of all we should campaign for unions that are prepared to fight back against exploitation and injustice at work without fear of who in the Labour Party or TUC might get offended. For GMB members this union is not AMICUS.