Sir Ken to dial 'Dubya' Bush?

As the Weekly Worker goes to press, Tony Blair's favourite trade union leader, Sir Ken Jackson, is desperately clinging on to his position of joint general secretary of Amicus, the million-strong union formed last year from a merger of the Amalgamated Electrical and Engineering Union and the Manufacturing, Science and Finance union. In what is just the latest episode in the ignominious collapse of a generation of rightwing British trade union leaders, Jackson's bid for re-election in the AEEU section against Derek Simpson, the candidate of the 'broad left' group organised around the journal AEEU Unity Gazette (formerly Engineering Gazette), has now gone to a fourth recount. History never ceases to amaze us with the delicious ironies it throws up from time to time. Jackson has been the trade union movement's foremost advocate of 'social partnership' and exclusive 'sweetheart deals' between unions and employers, which are bureaucratically engineered behind the backs of the workers. He has won capitalist plaudits by offering a seemingly stable and ideologically-grounded model of trade unionism as a policeman of the working class. He is also a virulent anti-communist and a stalwart of the Trade Union Committee for Transatlantic and European Understanding, an organisation with links to Nato and the US foreign policy establishment, which has recently been the subject of an exposé on the Labournet internet trade union resource (www.labournet.net/ukunion/0207/pcs2.html). During the drama, which sees brothers Jackson and Simpson deadlocked with around 89,000 votes each, Sir Ken must have been tempted more than once to ring the boss, George W Bush, for election-clinching advice! The crisis of the union movement's right wing can be no more clearly illustrated than by Jackson's decision to stand for re-election. Aged 65 this year, he was completely unable to find a trusted successor and his first move was to seek a two-year extension of his term of office, which would have allowed him to accompany the ex-MSF joint general secretary, Roger Lyons, up to the latter's own 65th birthday and retirement. When the AEEU Unity Gazette group produced a queen's counsel opinion that the extension would be unlawful, Jackson was forced into the election and wreaked his revenge by ruling that brother Simpson must resign his position as a full-time official of the union in order to stand against him. The contest has been dogged by allegations of fraudulent practices carried out by the Jackson camp. Indeed, the AEEU's South East regional secretary, Roger Maskell, was asked to resign by 'clean hands' Jackson after the former's admission of his coordination of a flying squad of full-time officials, who visited branch meetings to serially nominate and vote for Jackson's candidacy. Six other officials await disciplinary proceedings over the affair. Meanwhile, the website of AEEU Unity Gazette, reports that Maskell continued, after his resignation, to organise the Jackson campaign, using the telephone and other resources of the union's Luton office, presumably on a pro bono basis (www.amicusunitygazette.com). Derek Simpson's campaign has featured an all-out assault on the style of unionism espoused by Jackson. He has pledged to end the policy of seeking sweetheart deals and to demand legislative changes to protect jobs and workers' pensions and to abolish anti-union laws. On union organisation, he has expressed his commitment to reintroduce the election of officials, a practice abolished by Jackson, and to restore a democratically controlled structure for union branches. Whatever the outcome of the Amicus election, the tame trade unionism epitomised by Sir Ken Jackson has suffered a major and possibly fatal blow. There has not been a more auspicious time, in recent years, for socialists and communists to boldly put forward a programme for rebuilding our unions as working class combat organisations. The Socialist Alliance leadership, its trade union working group and its trade union fractions must consistently agitate for objectives such as the democratisation of union political funds, the election and recallability of officials, the formation of a single union in each industry and the forging of trans-European trade unions. Derek Hunter