Blair favourite Sir Ken is out
By Miriam Shaw
Derek Simpson's victory over Ken Jackson in an election for General Secretary of Amicus is a great result for the left in the unions. A blow to New Labour - Jackson was the leader closest to Blair - and a great opening for those who want to democratise Amicus and make it into a fighting union.
The Executive of the union has yet to endorse Simpson's election, but now that Blair has told Jackson to "give in gracefully" it is probable they will do so at their next meeting on 13 August.
Simpson is a long-time Sheffield-based official of the union. Unlike most officials he was elected. Formerly in the Communist Party - which he joined, he says, for its industrial work rather than its ideology - he's now a Labour Party member. Simpson says that while he is not a Blairite, he is not anti-Blair. In fact he seems be a fairly straightforward, pragmatic trade unionist.
He represents, that layer in the union who want to move it away from business unionism towards straight trade unionism. He was backed by Amicus Gazette a smallish, but influential caucus in the union - the remnant of the old Communist Party Broad Left - which stands for elected officials, campaigning for the membership, defending jobs.
Simpson's election platform was based on three key principles: democratise the union, make "partnership" beneficial to workers not just bosses, and renew the spirit of campaigns like the '89-90 strikes which won a shorter working week for engineers.
He won not only because that appealed to the rank and file membership, but also because members were sick and tired of Jackson's slavish support for New Labour and constant pursuit of sweetheart deals. Jackson and his right-wing predecessors in the EEPTU who broke the strike at Wapping had got the AEEU a reputation as a scab union of which few were proud.
Ken Jackson had planned simply to stay in his job until 2004 to see through the merger of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union with Manufacturing, Science and Finance - until a court case forced the union to hold an election. Jackson, at 65, should have been too old to stand, and apparently wanted out, but the right wing couldn't agree on an alternative candidate - so Jackson it was.
Jackson has gone, but he will still get a healthy pension and still have his well paid, part-time job as chairman of nuclear waste firm Nirex, a job he got through his not inconsiderable experience sucking up to managers and bosses. As the Amicus Gazette puts it, under Ken Jackson Amicus was "a union which openly proclaimed to give workers what they can get for free from their employers - partnership and arbitration!"
The Amicus Executive is overwhelmingly dominated by Jackson supporters - who could give Simpson a tough ride. But ironically he may benefit from the introduction - by Jackson - of wide-ranging powers for the General Secretary to act without Executive approval. Nonetheless, Simpson, like Mark Serwotka in the PCS, is likely to face right-wing obstruction.
Simpson has already tried to get an editorial board set up to oversee the union's publications and that is an encouraging sign - it indicates that Simpson is trying to widen and consolidate a base of support. Jackson used to use the union's press as his own private propaganda sheet.
Democracy is the key issue here. While the MSF's procedures were not good, it was nothing like the regime in the AEEU - which over the last 20 years the right wing had turned from one of the most democratic of all union constitutions into a personal fiefdom, for the likes of Jackson.
But Amicus is also a very powerful union - now the second largest in the country. It organises workers in key manufacturing sectors - at BAe, Rolls Royce and Plessey. Simpson's election may be a signal to these groups of workers to start to fight on issues which have become of pressing concern - crucially wages.