Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Unity, yes! But not at any any price.

Here at Shiraz Socialist, we're organised by ACTS - the 'white collar' section of the Transport and General Workers Union. I think it's also fair to say that, in terms of T&GWU internal politics we could, broadly, be called critical supporters of the present General Secretary, Tony Woodley.

We - certainly - have been supporters of Woodley's drive for unity with Amicus, and for the creation of a 'new union'. It makes industrial sense: both existing unions organise in the same industries, and even alongside each other in the same workplaces:

Opposition to the 'new union' within the T&G has come mainly from the regions: the T&G has a powerful regional structure, in which Regional Secretaries wield a tremendous amount of influence, including the power to hire and fire officials and members of staff. This has allowed Regional Secretaries to build up their own personal fiefdoms based upon nepotism and downright corruption. The Regional Secretary of Region One (London), Eddie McDermott, recently resigned rather than have Woodley call the police in to examine his financial affairs. Something similar happened with the Scottish Regional Secretary, Andy Baird, recently sacked by Woodley for ballot-rigging.

Unfortunately, the "left" within the union is also prone to regionalism: Region 6 (Merseyside and the North West), controlled by left-wingers, seems to think that the union should exist for the benefit of its unemployed members and that there should be no national control over regions.

We at Shiraz Socialist believe that the success of the the T&G/Amicus merger is vital for the future of the trade union movement in Britain. Whatever the dangers, we wish the new union well, and we support the amalgamation against its critics from both right and 'left'. And also from bums like the present Deputy General Secretary of Amicus, whose stupid posturing seems almost designed to sabotage the merger; certainly the anti-merger forces within the T&G (eg: Barry Camfield and his corrupt Region One cronies) have made full use of this sectarianism for their own purposes.

The Joint Working Party set up by the respective executives of the two unions, has now reported, and drawn up 'Instrument of Amalgamation': the law governing union mergers requires that members must approve - in a secret postal ballot - the 'Instrument of Amalgamation', which must contain the following:

i) the name and principle purposes of the amalgamated organisation;
11) the conditions of admission to membership;
111) the structure of the amalgamated organisation;
1v) the method of appointing and removing the governing body and principal officials and of altering its rules;
v) the contributions and benefits applicable to members of the amalgamating organisations.

The document fulfills all the above legal requirements. However, it does not fulfill Woodley's promise to T&G members that this process would result in a "new union" - not just a traditional amalgamation. There are many things to object to in the Instrument of Amalgamation (probably obtainable at the T&G's website, but at the time of writing it's down), but - in fairness - some of these objections are probably necessary evils to enable the amalgamation to take place.

However, there are four essential reasons to oppose the document:

* The formulation of "all committee members must be accredited workplace reps" (the T&G Executive has already referred this back);
* The joining of the 'East' Region with London to make a Region (London should be a Region in its own right and if there aren't enough members in the 'East' to form a viable region, they would be better served in a joint Region with the 'South';
* There are no mandatory committees below region. The 'permissive' rule: "(Regions) may set up Area Activists Committees, subject to EC approval, to bring together activists in a given district across industrial sections". That "may" should be "shall", and areas should have the same staus as Districts have in the T&G Regions that still have them. Regional (industrial) Trade Groups should also be mandatory. As one T&G GEC member commented (with tongue firmly in cheek): "Allowing Regions to decide their own committee structure is what made Region One the model of democracy and good governance it was under Eddie (McDermott: allowed to resign, rather than be sacked for corruption).

I never thought I'd say this: but unless these proposals are radically changed, there may be a case for opposing the amalgamation.

P.S: Sorry if all the above seems boring to non-TGWU / Amicus members: it's just that the future of organised labour in Britain depends upon it.


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