Monday, 16 February 2009

Derek Simpson is a disgrace

The picture says it all. A trade union leader grown flabby on a union expense account with his arms around two 'glamour' models from the right-wing (not to say anti-union) Daily Star to promote the most xenophobic take on the wildcat strikes over oil refinery jobs.

Simpson is the joint general secretary of Unite, the union formed from the recent merger of Amicus and the Transport and General Workers Union. He's also a key union ally of Gordon Brown, which perhaps makes his support for “British jobs for British workers” unsurprising, since Brown was the originator of the phrase in recent political discourse.

The wildcat strikers who have taken up the slogan have provoked much debate in the lefty blogosphere, including over the actual level of racism among strikers, but when Brown makes a promise like that and it rings so hollow, its not surprising that some of them seek to throw it back at the Prime Minister. Its certainly no more reactionary in their mouths than it is in his.

Nevertheless, there are people involved in the strikes that have tried to steer them away from nationalism and towards a demand for transborder workers' rights and decent terms and conditions for all. Not so Derek Simpson it seems. But the problems with Simpson don't end with his embrace of reactionary nationalism and sexism.

Simpson's leadership of Unite (Amicus section) has seen the union supporting a new third runway at Heathrow despite the implications for climate change and an expansion of nuclear power. Union leaders have to defend their members, but responsible progressive ones should be arguing for expansion in green industries, not dirty and dangerous ones. The union also strongly supported Tony Blair when he forced the Serious Fraud Office to drop its investigation into arms exporter BAE Systems amid pressure from Saudi Arabia to do so.

Now Simpson has been forced into a leadership contest he was trying to avoid. The strange terms of the merger between the T&G and Amicus led to a situation where Simpson was able to try and stay in power for eight years without being re-elected – until someone brought a legal challenge that is. Now that person, Jerry Hicks, is a candidate against Simpson, on a platform of democratic grassroots organising, environmental responsibility and internationalism. Simpson meanwhile has been accused of using official union publications to argue the case for a vote for himself. Being a member of the T&G section of Unite I won't be able to vote, but for the sake of the union's future I really hope that Jerry Hicks wins.

1 comment:

Falco said...

"Union leaders have to defend their members, but responsible progressive ones should be arguing".....

only for those things that protect their workers.

That is their job and that should be all that their job is.