Amicus and T&G try to form 'super union'

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Confidential talks aimed at creating a "super-union" dominating Labour Party politics and covering huge swaths of the private sector are expected to begin this week.

Confidential talks aimed at creating a "super-union" dominating Labour Party politics and covering huge swaths of the private sector are expected to begin this week.

A special meeting of the Transport & General Workers' Union (T&G) on Wednesday will approve a closer working relationship with the giant Amicus union, leading to a merger, The Independent understands.

That move, backed by the general secretary Tony Woodley, would create a union with more than two million members, ranging from unskilled workers to financial managers. It would be by far the biggest single donor to Labour and a party affiliate with unrivalled influence, dragging policies to the left.

Although the executive of the GMB, the country's fourth biggest union, has so far rebuffed advances from the nascent organisation, it is thought it might be drawn into a merger. The construction union Ucatt will also be a candidate. That would give the new union a membership of more than 2.7 million and call into question the continued existence of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) which is supposed to act as an umbrella organisation for the movement.

It is thought the GMB has also been courted by Unison, the largest affiliate to the TUC with 1.3 million members, mostly in the public sector. The GMB membership is divided equally between the public and private sectors and so could fit into either group.

A senior source at Amicus, whose national executive is also meeting on Wednesday, pointed out yesterday that its general secretary Derek Simpson has consistently argued in favour of one union for the private sector.

A spokesman for the T&G confirmed that there was a special meeting of the union's executive on Wednesday, but said the agenda was being kept under wraps. The executive of the GMB has postponed a final decision on its future until after the union's national congress in June where delegates are likely to discuss amalgamation.

The union is in turmoil over allegations of vote-rigging in the ballot which elected Kevin Curran as general secretary. Mr Curran has denied involvement in improper conduct, although the union's general purposes committee is soon expected to appoint a senior barrister to chair an inquiry.

Arguably, the main hurdle to merger in the GMB is the power of the regional secretaries who are allowed to vote on the national executive. A source at the union said their influence would almost certainly be curtailed by any new constitution. "Turkeys don't vote for Christmas," the source added.

Another barrier to the GMB is its difficult financial position, although it seems to have improved under the leadership of Mr Curran. It could do even better under the economies of scale allowed by amalgamation. One of the most controversial measures to deal with the problems at the GMB is to cut the pensions of retired officials.

Despite the pensions crisis throughout the economy, most employers have never tried to undermine the rights of existing pensioners for fear of provoking mass protest from trade unions.

The GMB has warned that if the new arrangements are not accepted, it could wind up the fund. Under the plan, retired officials between 60 and 65 are expected to accept a cut of £2,500 a year.

The result of a ballot on the proposed changes is due today. A union spokesman said it was still committed to a final-salary scheme.

The ten biggest

  • Unison - 1,301,000 members
  • Amicus - 1,179,850
  • Transport & General - 820,118
  • GMB - 600,106
  • Usdaw - 331,703
  • PCS - 295,063
  • Communication Workers' Union - 258,696
  • National Union of Teachers - 239,796
  • NASUWT - 223,486
  • Ucatt - 110,886
  • Total TUC-affiliated unions: 6.5m