Building the Union or playing games?

Unite’s Executive Council met yesterday, in a special meeting held to discuss a delay in the implementation of the new rule book, and the calling of a General Secretary election in the Amicus section. The background to this is in a previous blog entry.The meeting was preceded by heated informal discussions, in a number of different forums. These included a meeting of the TGWU Executive members with Tony Woodley, and a meeting of the Amicus Executive members with Derek Simpson – the difference being that the Left Amicus members weren’t invited. There were also the inevitable ‘caucus’ meetings.

Yesterday’s Executive comes after Sunday’s meeting in Yorkshire where Derek Simpson and Steve Davison (former Chair of the Amicus Executive) launched a new centre-right group in the union. The politics of the new grouping seem to be based on attacking the TGWU and attacking those they regard as ‘ultra-leftists’. There are reports from official Unite meetings where the same positions – hostility to the TGWU and the Left – are put by Derek Simpson.

There is real frustration amongst many Executive Council members at the slow progress towards integration. There have been growing suspicions of ‘career politics’ going on – senior officials in the union deliberately withholding information or slowing merger down in order to influence the outcome of eventual General Secretary elections in 2011.

This meeting therefore came at a difficult time, in a context where the strong united union needed by our members is beginning to feel very distant at times. Some T&G members are even starting to consider the possibility of ‘demerging’ – walking away from the entire project.

I can understand why a ‘demerger’ might seem attractive. Some of the best T&G members report their profound disappointment at the way the merger is going, and feel that the new union has less lay control and isn’t delivering for members in the way that it should be. I think, though, that to go this way would be an absolute disaster. It’s hardly going to build the confidence of our reps and activists if their union fragments because people at the top can’t work together. And what messages would this send about unity and solidarity in our movement? It’s essential that such a damaging notion doesn’t become established as a serious proposition.

I was in a meeting on Wednesday of senior lay activists from Health, from the TGWU and Amicus sides. We work together fantastically well, with a common agenda of winning decent pay for health workers. We’re stronger because the two sections are working together – this is clear and obvious and straightforward. Those senior lay reps were furious when I told them of integration being held up, and the beginnings of the rumours around demerger. It made no sense to them at all.

I’ll do a fuller report on the Executive Council meeting over the next few days. The outcome, sadly, was a vote to delay the integration of the new rule book, and to proceed very quickly to a General Secretary election in the Amicus section. While many individuals had concerns over this, only three of us voted against.

There are significant risks ahead. Industrially, we need to get on and merge. We also need to set up the structures and meetings and training courses that allow the routine business of the Union to carry on in a practical and sensible way. It will be a disaster if the delay to the rule book is used as an excuse to delay integration further. It will be an even bigger disaster if an election is conduced in a divisive way, with one of the candidates pretending to Amicus members that T&G members are the enemy.

The interests of Amicus and T&G members are exactly the same. We’re trade unionists and we’re in the same trade union. There’s been a wholly unacceptable level of games playing over the last few months. It’s time for the Executive Council to exert its authority and hold the leadership of the Union to account.

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