Rumpole of the Amicus?

Submitted by Anon on 23 November, 2008 - 10:09 Author: Dale Street

Jerry Hicks is one of the three Amicus members — apart from the current General Secretary, Derek Simpson —seeking nominations to contest an election to be held next year for the post of General Secretary of the Amicus section of Unite. In the last issue of Solidarity we interviewed Hicks about his candidacy. We cover the other candidates, Kevin Coyne and Laurence Faircloth, in the next issue. Here Dale Street gives a critical response to Hicks’s platform.

Hicks was union convenor at the Rolls Royce Bristol plant until his victimisation in 2005. Of the four potential candidates for next year’s election, Hicks not only has the best record as a rank-and-file activist but also has the most left-wing platform.

Hicks calls for: election of all union officials, repeal of all anti-union laws, restoration of the link between earnings and pensions, an extension of public ownership, and more council housing. If elected, he will take only an average skilled worker’s wage.

At first sight, it might appear that Hicks is the natural candidate for the left to support.

In fact, some left-wing Amicus members find the idea of backing Hicks problematic. Some, such as members of the SWP, have already decided not to back him.

This is because of Hicks’ readiness to use the Certification Officer (to challenge Simpson’s intention to stay in post until December 2010 and year after he was due to retire), his apparent threats of further legal action against the union, and his lack of involvement in the organised left in Amicus, Unity Gazette.

The Certification Officer is a government-appointed official with powers to intervene in the internal affairs of trade unions. Socialists want to keep him out of unions, not invite him in to pass judgement. Calling for rank-and-file control of trade union organisation, as Hicks does, is not compatible with appealing for help from the Certification Officer.

Hicks does not even see going to the Certification Officer as a matter of the last resort. In referring to Simpson’s decision to lodge a complaint with the Certification Officer in 2002, Hicks writes: “Derek Simpson did the right thing in 2002. That’s why I, and others, gave him our full support.”

In any case allowing Simpson to stay on until December 2010 was part of the rulebook which was voted through at the time of the merger between Amicus and the TGWU.

Hicks says only a small minority of union members voted for the rulebook, and they were not necessarily voting for Simpson to remain in office until December 2010. Had members been aware of this illegal provision in the rulebook, they would have voted against it.

That argument could equally serve as a licence for the right to abandon provisions in the rulebook which do not suit them, on the grounds that members were “really” only voting for the merger rather than for every, likewise possible illegal, dot and comma in the rulebook.

Hicks has also said that as a result of his decision to involve the Certification Officer, “it is possible that Joint General Secretary Tony Woodley would also be forced to stand down, which could then open up an election for a new General Secretary for all 2.1 million members of Unite.”

How so? The nearest Hicks comes to an explanation on his website is his claim that an election for a single General Secretary of Unite would need to be held because the separate sections of Unite (i.e. Amicus and the TGWU) were to be scrapped on 1st November.

But this is not what has actually happened. And it was unlikely ever to happen. Instead, an emergency meeting of National Executive of Unite voted in early October to put the merger “on hold”, pending the staging of an election for the post of Amicus General Secretary.

Hicks has now threatened further legal action. In a statement he said:

“Any decision to suspend the rulebook will be successfully challenged and at some point either before, during, or after the election it will be declared invalid and so immediately trigger the need for a further election… Mr Hicks will stand as a candidate for a new General Secretary despite the fact it (the election) may well have to be re-run.”

So Hicks triggers an election by going to the Certification Officer. When an election is called, he declares that the election is illegal – but he will still take part in it. And because the election is illegal, due to the decision to suspend the rulebook, another election will have to be held. This will be triggered by another legal challenge by Hicks.

This is not a programme for rank-and-file control of the union. It is a recipe for reducing the membership to an audience watching another series of “Rumpole of the Bailey”.

Unity Gazette has decided to back Lawrence Faircloth, who has a well-established record — as a right-winger. The first and only meeting of Unity Gazette to have been attended by Faircloth is the one which decided to back his campaign for General Secretary.

That Hicks does not have support from Unity Gazette is not necessarily of decisive importance. Unity Gazette is not overly left-wing.

But Hicks’ failure even to attempt to win, support from Unity Gazette certainly does make his decision to contest the election (assuming he wins the requisite number of nominations) look more like the action of a maverick than like a thought-through initiative to build an organised left in the Amicus section of Unite.

If it is too harsh a verdict, then there are a lot of things Hicks need to clarify.