The question on Jim Denham’s voting paper, and on mine, in the recent TGWU-Amicus ballot, was “do you approve the Instrument of Amalgamation?”, not “are you, in general, in favour of a merger of TGWU and Amicus?”
I favoured voting no because I do not approve the Instrument of Amalgamation. Jim does not approve the Instrument, either. He believes that “the creation of a rank-and-file controlled accountable industrial structure must be our central task”. The scheme outlined by the Instrument of Amalgamation is anything but.
So, if anyone is taking a paradoxical, contrary-to-common-sense view here, it is Jim, not (as Jim claims in his letter, Solidarity 3/106) me.
Jim’s argument for voting for the Instrument of Amalgamation, even though he disagrees with it, is based on two propositions.
One, that the scheme outlined by the Instrument of Amalgamation is “not particularly undemocratic”.
Second, that there is no hope in the near future of getting anything better. “We lost [the argument for a better structure] because the majority of activists (including most of the left) don’t agree with us, or don’t see these issues as important”.
In fact, the scheme outlined in the Instrument of Amalgamation is undemocratic. “Broadly the present structure of the T&G”, plus elaborate provisions for the General Secretary succession, plus a system of regional and national “political committees” borrowed from Amicus, plus a proviso that the joint General Secretaries can veto any decision of the Joint Executive with less than 75% majority, it gives huge power to full-time officials who are unelected or elected for long terms. Armed with such a scheme, the formidable corps of Amicus right-wing full-time officials is likely to be able to stifle life in the merged union for some time.
It is not the case that all activists in the TGWU, let alone those in Amicus, debated the case for a more democratic structure and, after mature reflection, rejected it. Actually the argument did not get far outside the (fairly narrow) circles of the TGWU Broad Left, where indeed, as Jim reports, many “didn’t see these issues as important” or rejected outright such reforms as insisting that key committees be made up of working lay members.
It is not easy to get out to wider circles of the membership. But that is what we have to do. It is indeed, as Jim says, “our central task”.
That “central task” would have been better advanced by a loud minority vote against the Instrument of Amalgamation than by a stance which argues for reform, then switches to vote for unreformed structure on the grounds that it is “not particularly undemocratic” and we can be “enthusiastic” about unreformed merger, and then switches back again to arguing for reform.
Those activists whom we can reach are most likely to conclude from such a switch-and-switch-again stance that we do not see the reforms we argue for as particularly urgent or realistic. But urgent and realistic they are.