BAD DAY FOR THE UNION

The bad day for the union was 11 November when the special recall conference voted in favour of holding a membership ballot on a merger with the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU).

The membership ballot will probably take place early next year, along with a similar ballot in the AEEU. If both ballots result in a majority in support of a merger, there will then be a three-year integration period leading to the formation of a new union.

The special conference was a low-key affair on the whole. The final vote was close, about 60:40 according to some observers, but there was no argument about the result. It was a surprise that no count was made of such a vital decision.

The three delegates present from St. Pancras branch, Glenn Sutherland, Jennie Twydell and Chip Hamer, all voted against holding a membership ballot, in line with branch policy. This policy was upheld by the result of our own poll on merger issues (see later).

Many at the conference remarked that the General Secretary Roger Lyons was not allotted a speaking role and remained silent throughout. This was taken to demonstrate the effect of all the publicity about his conduct over the last six months.

The arguments for and against the merger have been rehearsed extensively in this bulletin and elsewhere over the last year. The arguments against taking this step remain valid, notwithstanding the conference vote. The AEEU is an unattractive merger partner. It has an unduly centralised regime, most clearly shown by its refusal to ballot its members in the selection of the Labour Party's candidate for London mayor. This boomeranged, as we know, in that the Labour Party lost the subsequent election. Its tactics on recruitment and organising are highly questionable, to put it politely. The most recent example to come to light is at Rupert Murdoch's News International. The company is trying to block the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) from obtaining recognition. The NUJ is in a position to take advantage of the new legislation. The company has responded to this by setting up a company union covering the journalists' area to which it will award recognition. The AEEU has not just connived at this manoeuvre but its representatives are in the forefront of organising this company union. Few would regard this as bona fide, independent trade unionism, but in a matter of months it could be going on in our name.

Within MSF, the discussion has been characterised by the volume of biased and misleading information emanating from Head Office and by the attempts to suppress any alternative point of view. Two members of St. Pancras branch were threatened with a legal action for producing a leaflet against the merger. This was only the crudest of many efforts to prevent members from encountering the counter-arguments. In the structure proposed for the new union, there will be even stronger powers for the national union to control what goes on in the branches.

No doubt, then, that 11 November was a bad day for the union.

BRANCH POLL SHOWS THE DIFFERENCE

While the national consultative poll apparently yielded 90% support for the objectives and structure of a new union (while carefully obscuring what was actually involved), the extra poll in St. Pancras branch showed a very different picture.

The branch polled members on the question whether merger should only go ahead on the terms required by the MSF Annual Conference (these terms have not been met). There were 209 replies from about 1100 ballot papers sent out, roughly the same turnout as the national poll. 176 voted YES, the merger should only go ahead on the Annual Conference terms, 30 voted NO and there were 3 spoiled papers. A number of people who voted NO made it clear that this was because they were against the merger on any terms.

It appears that we were unique in the union in conducting this kind of exercise. While a number of branches issued their own material on the national poll, no-one else took the step of sampling the opinion of their members on other aspects of the issue. The question has to be asked: why not?

The other question is why our poll yielded such a radically different outcome to the national effort. The only answer is, apart from the intrinsic qualities of St. Pancras members, that people had alternative information available to them on which to base their decision.

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