The proposed “super-union” formed from a merger between AMICUS, TGWU and possibly the GMB, is an issue that should be taken seriously by all socialists.
The idea that there should be no barriers between working class people in the representation of their interests at work is an important and progressive one. The UK trade union movement has been beset by historical and personal rivalries, partial views of the class struggle. Coming together can sometimes eradicate out these weaknesses. Unity is strength!
However there are areas of serious concern about the proposed merger. I do not think the merger proposals are automatically progressive.
Firstly there is the issue of the merger process itself. By their nature mergers are usually driven by the bureaucracy, from the top. This is not always bad, and indeed, sometimes overall co-ordination is the only way to have an effective organisation. However such things always have the stamp of their architects. Often there are fudges on issues like structure in order to get top level agreement or in order to get a successful vote. The continuing divisions in UNISON around the political fund structures and the ongoing inappropriate constituency arrangements in the CWU are cases in point.
Basically, instead of doing away with division, it is possible to institutionalise it in the new structure.
But perhaps the biggest criticism of the way bureaucracies organise mergers is that it is often followed by a period of navel gazing (of usually years).
One of the faults of UK trade unions is their inward looking nature; they are too focussed on internal movement concerns to relate with confidence to the unorganised working class. A period of merger only emphasises this tendency.
And then there is the scramble for positions... and the big redundancy payments to get rid of officials who do not fit in.
We need to be sure that mergers conform to some kind of industrial logic. Although there are areas of crossover in sectoral representation, and it would be a very good thing to get rid of duplicated structures, the AMICUS, TGWU, GMB tie up doesn’t resolve many outstanding issues. It does not form a public sector or a manufacturing block — other unions organise on these patches. So while the merger may solves some problems it will create others.
Industrial logic need not necessarily be perfect to work, but decisions need to be made on a strategic basis, for the good of the class. Too much of the proposed merger seems to be about a marriage of financial convenience, with justification after the event. For example, if in the proposed merger certain sectors do not fit, will it be proposed that those members transfer to another union? Not likely.
Another important issue about the proposed merger is the questions over what will be the shape of the new political structures. The current AMICUS political structure is exclusive to Amicus delegates to Constituency Labour Parties. Can we believe that the AMICUS bureaucracy will open up the political structure in a more democratic way, when they have just stitched it up so tightly in their most recent merger with MSF ? This will be of crucial importance given the proposed union will account for the majority of affiliated political fund levy payers in the movement.