From 1st May, Amicus and TGWU will officially cease to exist (although a number of separate structures will continue for a few months yet).
The last ever meeting of the Amicus National Executive Council took place earlier this month. A report on the meeting is here: April 2nd,2008. Under Amicus standing orders, this is very carefully written. Amicus NEC members have been required to obey collective discipline, and we have not been allowed to report our own views or voting records.
Will Amicus be missed? I’ve found few people who will mourn for too long.
Amicus ended up as a union very clearly on the right of the labour movement. We were one of the few major national unions not to affiliate to the Stop the War Coalition. In practice we consistently supported the replacement of Trident nuclear missiles, although we eventually discovered a bit of left cover for this line. We managed to avoid taking any position on the Labour Government’s attacks on civil liberties.
The General Secretary has talked openly about the future of the trade union movement being one of managed decline. Our campaign to save jobs at Peugeot was based on a consumer boycott, as strikes and demonstrations were seen as out of date. We’ve lost confidence in the ability of our members to defend jobs, pay and conditions – so we’ve looked to winning scraps from the Labour Government instead. Amicus has given vast amounts of money to Labour – and has got little in return. We supported Gordon Brown for Labour Party leader, rather than John McDonnell. Think of the impact it could have had if Amicus had thrown its weight behind McDonnell.
The pro-New Labour politics and policies were accompanied all too often by an erosion of lay control. This has been particularly marked in the Health Sector, where traditions of lay involvement and control used to be strong. Branches have grown steadily weaker, the autonomy of our professional groups has been eroded, Regional Sector Committees vary around the country but are far weaker than when lay members convened and ran them, Regional Occupational Advisory Committees have pretty much ceased to exist…
It hasn’t all been bad, though, and it’s important to acknowledge this. Amicus has had a clear position of opposition to the privatisation and fragmentation of the NHS. We were the first major union to affiliate to Keep Our NHS Public. We initiated NHS Together. We’ve done some strong campaigning work around defence of the NHS. We’ve quite rightly opposed Lord Darzi’s proposals (nationally and in London) that will lead to worse service provision and further privatisation.
We’ve done OK on some other issues too. Our support for Defend Council Housing has been second to none. We’ve given excellent support too to Love Music Hate Racism. We have a policy of defending abortion rights.
So, a patchy picture overall. At our final NEC meeting, Derek Simpson talked about the Amicus ‘heritage’ and the need to defend Amicus values and Amicus traditions. If Amicus was the best union in the world, four years wouldn’t have been much time to establish a heritage! With all the complexities we’ve actually seen, I honestly don’t know what the Amicus heritage is.
The final report, then, is ‘Could do better’. Unite is the UK’s largest union. Simply because of our size, we will have an extraordinary weight and influence in the wider movement. The task for the Left in the new union? I believe our priority is not allowing ourselves to be fobbed off with false arguments about being loyal to ‘our’ section of the union, whether this is Amicus or the T&G. Left activists, on and off the Executive Council, have to unite around progressive politics, a union that fights hard for its members, and a union that trusts its lay members enough to allow them to run things. If we can achieve these things, this will really be a heritage to be proud of.