Friday, December 22, 2006

Towards the new union! Away with shadows of the past!

Tuesday 19th December 2006, may go down in history as the day that the trade union movement in Britain began to break down old sectional divisions, and finally got its act together; or it may go down as the day in which bureaucratically-managed decline became the order of the day. The "Vesting Day" of May 1st 2007 will be the date upon which the two great British unions, the T&GWU and Amicus (formerly the AEU, ASTMS and EEPTU), amalgamate, forming a new union (assuming that the members of both unions agree to amalgamation, in a ballot, to be held in January / February of next year).

Naturally, I prefer to believe that this amalgamation is the beginning of a new, vibrant and militant age for British trade unionism. Discussions have been going on between the T&GWU and Amicus about a merger to form a new "super-union", since 2005. At first, the GMB were also involved, but they bailed out at their 2006 conference. The reason that the GMB withdrew (despite their General Secreatry Paul Kenny being, privately, in favour) is worth knowing, from the point of view of T&G and Amicus rank-and-file people assessing the pros and cons of the merger: the reason that the GMB conference rejected the merger was because their regional secretaries and branch secretaries have too much to lose: they make a very good living out of the present arrangements within the GMB - thank you very much - and don't want anyone interferering with it...Paul Kenny knows very well that these people are corrupt, but he can't move against them, because he depended upon them to gain power against his predecessor, Curran. The fact that the GMB is going bankrupt, and will be out of business if present trends continue, in about twenty or thirty years, is of no concern to the regional and branch bureaucrats: they'll be dead and gone before the union goes bankrupt.

What was refreshing about Tuesday 19th's recall BDC (Biennial Delegate Conference) of the Transport and General Workers' Union, was the honesty of the debate, and the seriousness with which the future of trade unionism as a whole, was treated.

There has been a consultation on the question of the amalgamation/"new union" within the T&G, ever since the matter was first raised before the membership, before the 2005 Biennial Delegate Conference (BDC). That conference insisted that there must be a recall BDC to vote on the proposed rule book for the new union, before it was put to a ballot of the membership of the two unions: that is exactly what is being done: for once, a union leadership is carrying out the demands of its membership.

The recall T&G BDC was a very democratic affair. Speeches were taken for and against the resolution to support the Instrument of Amalgamation; of the 34 speeches taken, 4 were against. At one point, I thought I thought no-one would speak against, then up got that old friend of this blog, Rachael Webb, to denounce the amalgamation: Rachael was, and is, completely wrong, but you had to admire her guts and spirit: her case seemed to be based upon the proposition that Derek Simpson and the Amicus leadership are not to be trusted (something that many of had worked out for ourselves many moons ago)...

There were very powerful speeches in favour of amalgamation from the vast majority of speakers from the floor - although it was noticeable that all those who wanted to speak against, were called to other words, no attempt was made to suppress the opposition, such as it was... I'm sure that Rachael will confirm that.

In the end, the recall BDC voted against fear of the past (repeated evocations of Frank Chapple, Eric Hammond, etc), and in favour of a new future for British trade unionism: the most important aspect of which is £7.05 million guaranteed for unionising, guaranteed to rise to £15 build he new union amonst previously unorganised sectors: of course we have to support it!


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