Around 800 delegates attended the Amicus Policy and Rules conference held in Brighton 14-18 May.
Amicus was originally formed through a merger of the MSF and the old engineering union. Since then the banking union BIFU and the media union GPMU have also merged into the union.
After the BIFU and GPMU mergers Amicus claimed a membership of around 1.2 million. A pre-conference membership audit corrected this figure to around 850,000 – as if, overnight, seven or eight unions the size of the AUT had suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth.
The Amicus General Secretary is Derek Simpson. His election was hailed as a victory for the Left – which it was. His opponent was the arch right-winger Sir Ken Jackson. But since his election Simpson has consistently failed to live up to expectations.
Unfortunately, the conference continued down the same road.
Labour’s election victory was hailed as the start of a ‘radical third term’ for working people, based on the ‘Warwick Agreement’, in which the Blairites promised nothing of any substance to the Labour Party’s affiliated trade unions.
Nearly 90% of the conference voted in support of a motion re-affirming the union’s ‘commitment, solidarity, and affiliation to the Labour Party.’ Disaffiliation is certainly not on the Amicus agenda. Unfortunately, neither is any strategy to mount a serious fight within the Labour Party’s structures to demand implementation of the union’s policies.
Conference passed motions condemning jobs losses at MG Rover and Marconi. Other motions called for the restoration of the link between pensions and earnings, re-nationalisation of the railways, defence of asylum-seekers, and a shorter working week.
But all such motions will remain words on paper unless Amicus is prepared to take on the government to achieve their implementation.
By the narrowest of margins (51% to 49%) conference voted to adopt policy that all union full-timers should be elected. Simpson, whatever his other faults, spoke strongly in support of the motion. At a subsequent fringe meeting, however, he suggested that the policy might be sacrificed in pursuit of further union mergers.
A motion opposing the occupation of Iraq and calling for troop withdrawal by December of this year was passed. But a motion to affiliate to the Stop the War Coalition (STWC) was defeated by 52% to 47%.
Affiliation was opposed by Simpson. Unfortunately, he did not oppose affiliation on the grounds that the STWC does nothing to support trade unions in Iraq and has now degenerated into cheering on the anti-working class ‘resistance’ in Iraq.
Simpson opposed affiliation on the curious grounds that not enough was known about the STWC. The sub-text of his speech was that the STWC was too anti-Labour for his liking.
Simpson’s next goal, already well-advanced, is merger with the TGWU and the GMB. In addition, he is looking towards merger with the German union IG Metall, on the basis that international mergers are necessary to combat globalisation. It was no coincidence that the President of IG Metall addressed the conference.
The problem with the mergers achieved to date, and the likely problem with the planned future mergers, is that they have not resulted in a stronger, more combative union. Like Amicus’s claimed membership figures, the result looks better on paper than in reality.
Many Amicus activists are sceptical about the planned future mergers – not because of opposition to mergers in principle, but because the experience to date has been that mergers make for less democracy, less accountability, and less campaigning.