14 Sept 2009

Jerry Hicks 'From a ‘Can’t do’ union to a ‘can do’ union'

Serious ecosocialist politics has to be about working class control of the economy for green production....the person who has made this most central is Jerry Hicks.

Vestas, renewable energy, production for need...its all here...when do we hear these vital demands made with a call for fighting trade union action!

He came second in his union contest last year, if the left and not just the ecosocialist left (who I am convinced will back him with enthusiasm) united he can win.

This is speech which should have gone ahead at the notorious 'United Left Hustings' (disunited right?')

‘Seen but not heard’ The speech that I would have made.
United Left Hustings Manchester : Saturday 5th September 2009

Problems of Armageddon proportions were bandied about during the election for Joint General Secretary (JGS) Amicus earlier in the year.
I am certain lots remain but the one problem that towers above all others in my view is the one of the massive disconnect between the union and its members.

The leadership and not just Simpson have failed to touch the hearts and minds of members. 90% of the membership never felt connected enough to vote for the NEC, the highest lay body in our union. Only 17% felt it of worth to vote for the merger to create ‘Unite’ the country’s biggest Trade Union and in the election for JGS, only 15%.

When rhetoric fails to measure up to reality there is a crisis of credibility

When we say the right things even bang the right tables only to walk away it creates a huge problem for us. Our union called for a windfall tax yet nothing happens. At Northern Rock owned by the tax payer/us, organised by Unite, we rightly demanded - No job losses - No home repossessions – but there followed 2000 job losses and the highest repossessions. The result being the government ignores us. Employers are confident enough to break agreements, cut jobs, impose pay freezes, and come for our pensions.

Fundamental change in our relationship with New Labour Government…..Now!

I believe that our union’s relationship is one of being - too close - too cosy - paying too much – for far too little. £13 million since 2005 and supporting over 100 Labour MPs has not even achieved the basic right to re-instatement when unfairly dismissed. PFI hospitals and academy schools proliferate and we have the 2nd lowest state pension in Europe.

It’s an outrage that the retirement age was raised to 67 by a Labour Gov who are now being persuaded to raise it to 70. Truth is - dead people don’t draw pensions. The list goes on.

But criticism, however strident, in whatever amounts means nothing and no change, which in my view is what Len McCluskey offers. Ask our members about the Warwick Accord/s dead before the ink was dry……………….Alas poor Warwick I knew it well

Though disaffiliation being put forward by Rob Williams will appeal for sure, it will also alienate the very best of Labour members, MPs and councillors and though Rob puts this forward as a left idea, ironically it will also find support amongst those not only on the left.

I say we should support only MPs or councillors, current and prospective, who support our union’s policies. Sadly that would immediately reduce the number to a handful. We need to be in tune and in touch without any compromise of our politics.

Like the King with no clothes – no one in our union has the courage to speak out

Just last May we were subjected to something quite humiliating. The place was Birmingham, the event a ‘March for Jobs’, all good so far. Then there was the horror of Digby Jones at the front of our demonstration.

Who was not embarrassed and angry at the sickening sight of the unelected former head of the CBI, unelected to Labour’s government, Digby Jones having star billing, the man who said 1 in 3 public sector workers were surplus. Did the union tell him it was a March for Job Losses!

If it were me last May, Rob Williams (victimised convener) would have led the way along with Corus and LDV workers. If that march was organised now and it were me deciding, it would be Ian Allinson and Steve Acheson - one leading the fight and strike ballot at Fujitsu to defend final salary pensions and defeat a pay freeze; the other, one of 3000 construction workers that are blacklisted and fighting against his victimisation. Who would be at the front …………Definitely not Digby Jones.

How did it ever come to be? Why did I hear no senior official speak out? I am a fierce critic of Derek Simpson but there are 11 Assistant General secretaries who either agreed with this fiasco, or were not willing to say anything.

Then there was Vestas on the Isle of Wight. Seize the moment or rue the day!

A very profitable company – 625 workers – not unionised (though 20 or so are in Unite) producing blades for wind turbines. Vestas talked about investment then announced a closure.

After a time came the fight back, no doubt inspired by the factory occupations at Waterford Glass, Visteon plants in Belfast, Enfield and Basildon and the unofficial strikes at Lindsey oil refinery along with the illegal solidarity walk outs.

An occupation, demonstrations, calls for nationalisation: national and international media attention, a boss maximising profit chucking a skilled and loyal workforce on the scrap heap and the product was the very Green energies that were needed to ‘Save the planet.’ Anyone who went there, and I did, could be in no doubt that this was a very popular dispute and could have been, should have been a defining moment.

This, the very stuff that we are made of and for, if we got it right this would be our time.
Where were we? Nowhere to be seen! Possibly terrified that our presence in some way would legitimise the dispute and in doing so even more implausibly face having our assets sequestrated, our union instructed officials, maybe even Len McCluskey, not to intervene, not to join the demonstrations. So they never, not even in a personal capacity.

Where there should have been a sea of red Unite flags there was nothing and it was left to the RMT to act like a union should, which to their credit they did and to our shame we never.
They now are benefiting by people across the country joining their union not ours.

The leadership of our union either agreed with this or they were indifferent to it – either way they went along with it.

We can and must turn the current pyramid on its head / From top down to member led.

A union that is run like a business, not a service to members, has caused a divide that has become a chasm between the union leadership and its members and needs to be bridged by returning ownership of the union to where it belongs - with the members.

Any democratic structure without control is pointless and will only turn people away. I believe in lay democracy with lay control.

Immediately replacing talking shop democracy will begin the process. That means giving workplace representatives, sector committees, combines and branches, independence and authority over decision making and organising. They all know their problems and will have the solutions and should be empowered to make their own decisions.

They decide, the Union provides……...and here’s a novel thought, allow (Amicus) branch secretaries to have members’ contact details! This hands the union back.
Elected officials who will only meet employers with the knowledge and agreement of reps and members, freeing them up to do what they do best, organise and serve the members.

A view on everything a policy to cover all things and a priority list.

I believe in ‘Public ownership’. We have seen hundreds of £billions of taxpayers’ money (our money!) being thrown at the banking system but with no guarantees for our members’ jobs. Why stop at the banks. We pay through the nose for essential services - Gas, Electric and Water - whilst the companies coin it in. Let’s take them back into pubic control.


A ‘Public works programme’ building schools, hospitals and council houses creating 100,000 new jobs for construction workers starting with offering the first 3000 jobs to those on the blacklist. This will not just happen, there will need to be a campaign and a fight for it.

Renewable energies, wind, sea and solar, providing up to a million jobs in Design / Manufacture / Construction and Installation / Maintenance, reducing our reliance on nuclear and oil. The argument that nuclear power will create jobs is a wholly bogus one and forgets to mention the legacy of thousands of years of waste. If the question was put “Which would you rather have, one million jobs or 10,000 jobs?” I can guess the answer.

Where’s the money coming from? Here are 3 ways for starters

1] Scrap Trident, there’s £75 billion : - £25 billion for schools, hospitals and housing
: - £25 billion for Renewable energies
: - £25 billion for State pensions

2] I have always said ‘Bring the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq’ saving thousands of lives and £ billions. (Opinion polls now say that view is also shared by the majority of people).

3] ‘Tax’ on Business most of which are still making huge profits.
‘Tax’ (90% / 95%) on bosses’ bonuses in banking, not the counter staff and call centre workers, our members who survive on the small bonuses they may get to top up low pay
‘Tax’ the very wealthy, those completely unaffected by the recession.

Repeal of all Anti Union Legislation brought in by the Tories, left unchanged by New Labour, unchallenged by the TUC and our union. We should decide what we want to do, when we need to do it and not be criminalised for making those decisions.


Election of officials, elected by members not appointed by the General Secretary and answerable only to the General Secretary whoever that might be. Not a panacea, but a much better way to be closer to members. Officials available and accountable, elected by the members to serve the members.

By the way it used to be argued “Who would give up their job if elected as a full time official when you could be voted out after 5 years?” 5 years guaranteed wages plus a car!
Well I guess about 1 ½ million of our members would!

Mergers that make us feel stronger not just bigger, better able to fight back - that would be the yard stick for success. Ask ourselves is that how we feel? Or is it that most members in every sector feel more remote, even less involved, without a real voice.

Retired members with a wealth of experience and talent should be recognised as a prized asset, and be able to participate fully and equally in all the democratic structures.

Fight for a decent state pension and absolute opposition to attacks on final salary schemes.

From a ‘Can’t do’ union to a ‘can do’ union/ From campaigning to a fighting union.

These are worrying times even scary times but these are the times when we must come to the fore. Why else is it that people join a Trade Union if it isn’t for collective strength and protection. We can bring together hope and anger, resistance and fight back.

It will not be for me to instruct our members to get back to work or to pack in their struggle or for me to tell our officials where not to be or not to go.

But I will tell all where I shall be and why, on the picket lines, at the occupations and alongside our members who take the brave decision to walkout.

I marvel at the hypocrisy of our union having a tent at Tolpuddle commemorating the bravery of the past, only to cower at the law and repudiate in the present.

I support unofficial action and solidarity action. If a hospital/school is up for closure, trade unionists should be able to act in support if they decide to do so.

I have been involved in campaigns where the heart is not in it. Peugeot was one. As a union we spent £1 million on a campaign ‘Don’t buy Peugeot cars’. We did not save one job let alone the factory. How are we to be judged if we simply say the right things but actually do nothing?

Workers’ rights, trade union freedoms, decent state pensions, pay and conditions and public ownership of utilities are the way forward, especially now during the chaos that the free market has created. Our arguments have never made more sense.

The hearts and minds of our members will not be won in this hall today or at any fringe meeting of the TUC next week. They will be won in the workplaces, on the dole queues, on the picket lines and on the roof top demonstrations. That’s where I intend to be whenever I can.

We are faced with a massive challenge but also an opportunity. If we are brave and audacious, if we have a clear set of priorities, if we hand the union back to our members, if at the head of the union we have some one who whether it be a Minister of the Government, an employer or any one of our members who look into their eyes they believe them.

It’s not just what someone says, it is what they do that counts:

I was offered a full time job in the union by Derek Simpson in 2003. I refused, not because I did not want to serve this union, but I did so on principle. I believe in elections.

Sacked by Rolls Royce after an occupation saved the jobs of 2 fitters,100 members taking 8 weeks strike action and winning in an industrial tribunal did not get my job back.

Victimised by Rolls Royce!
Assaulted and my leg broken by the police at Staythorpe power station demonstration!!
Insulted by Derek Simpson at the Newark construction rally!!!

Not a charge sheet but a badge of honour.

There’s a mood for real change, yet more of the same will not inspire or reinvigorate our union. MPs, union officials and estate agents are all treated with equal cynicism and disdain whether deserved or not. I am not any of these.

A General Secretary living a lifestyle nothing like that of any of our members rightly feeds members’ disrespect. I would only take the average wage of a skilled worker.

I say this not to score points but to make the point, and I will do it because it is the right thing to do, the best way to begin the vital reconnection.

Th election for the Unite General Secretary will almost certainly be held under a Tory Government. George Osbourne told a meeting of business leaders “after 3 months in office we will be the most unpopular Government since the war!”

Cuts and attacks staring us in the face – every section, every region, every workplace –employed and unemployed, retired or not. Our union leadership were unable to face up to Labour can our members be they can face up to the Tories if they get in?

This meeting (Manchester hustings of the United Left) will judge who of the candidates is best suited to carry out what they say.

But before you do decide, don’t just listen to me, listen to the 39,307 who voted for the things I say and do, and that was from only half our union.

We reached out way beyond the recognised organisations of the left, although never given a chance from the challenge, to nominations, to the ballot box.

To excuse the result as an anti Simpson vote is preposterous.

To underestimate that result will haunt the left, and let down the class.

Jerry Hicks :

5th September 2009

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