Tuesday 30 October 2007

Getting our heads around the TGWU

Over the last few days I've learnt a lot about the TGWU - the other half of UNITE.

At the moment, though UNITE is one legal entity, most structures and activities still take place within the Amicus or TWGU "sections" of the union. Even the current UNITE executive elections are taking place in parallel - 40 seats for each section.

Yesterday, while visiting workplaces around Manchester, I popped in at the local StageCoach bus depot. Most of the workers (drivers etc) are in the TGWU section, while some of the workers who maintain the buses are in the Amicus section. The workforce are in the middle of a ballot for strike action over pay, which is due to close next week.

I think it's a real weakness that members of our own union can be balloting for (or even taking) strike action, and most of us don't even know about it. If we've got a union of 2 million members, when any group of them feel they have to fight, they should feel they have 2 million behind them. If our employers felt that was the case, members sometimes wouldn't need to fight either!

Today I attended an informal meeting between the Amicus North-West Regional Council and the TGWU Regional Committee. I think it's vital that activists and members from the two sections start to meet each other and exchange information, news, views and ideas.

Part of the agenda involved explaining (or trying to!) the current regional structures of each section. The new union will have different structures, but it will be easier to understand points of view if we all understand where we're coming from.

The TGWU section have about 350 branches in the north-west, for about 90,000 paying members, whereas the Amicus section has 193 branches for about 140,000 paying members. The TGWU branches seem to be of more consistent size - mostly between 50 and 1000 members, whereas Amicus ones vary from tiny ones up to several thousand members.

The TGWU structure is much more branch-centred, rather than being based on shop stewards / workplace reps. However, TGWU branches are normally workplace-based. They have their own funds (typically about 10% of subs income).

Above branch level, there are three main types of structures: Trade Groups (a bit like our sectors, but broader), geographical structures, and equality structures.

Trade Groups
Branches can send one delegate to any Regional Trade Group for which the branch has at least 50 members. They can send a second delegate provided at least one is female. Some groups can send an additional Black And Ethnic Minority delegate.

The trade groups are:

  • ACTS (Misc, white collar - Voluntary sector, Finance, Betting etc)
  • Agricultural Workers
  • Building & Construction / Building Crafts
  • Chemical, Oil and Rubber
  • Civil Air Transport
  • Docks & Waterways
  • Food, Drink & Tobacco
  • General Workers
  • Power & Engineering
  • Public Services
  • Road Transport Commercial
  • Textile
  • Vehicle Building & Automotive
  • Passenger
Regional trade groups send delegates to national committees. They can also send 1-3 delegates to the Regional Committee.

Geographical Structures
Branches can send one delegate to a District Committee, plus a second delegate as long as at least one is female.

The District Committees are the closest thing to our Area Conferences & Committees, but with some important differences. Firstly, they are branch-based, whereas the Amicus Area structures are open to branch officers AND workplace reps. Secondly, the TGWU District Committees are more part of the main union structure, whereas our Area structures are bit out on a limb.

For the North-West, the TGWU districts are the Isle of Man, Liverpool, Wirral, Cheshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester. Cumbria is also a district, but in the TGWU that is not in the North-West region (it is in the new UNITE regions though). This is fairly close to the Amicus Areas (Manchester, Merseyside, Cheshire, Lancashire, Cumbria and Isle of Man).

Each TGWU District Committee can send two delegates (one male, one female) to the Regional Committee. Don't forget we've already got trade group delegates there; there is also one delegate at the Regional Committee from each of the regional Equality Committees (see below).

The TGWU Regional Committee roughly corresponds to the Amicus Regional Council. It meets quarterly. The Regional Committee elects a Finance & General Purposes Committee, which roughly corresponds to the Amicus "Regional Council Management Committee".
There was a suggestion that we could combine the TGWU's F&GP with the Amicus Management Committee to make the "F'ing Management Committee". Maybe not.

TGWU branches nominate to three equality committees, covering Women, Race and Disability. These send delegates to the Regional Committee and to National committees.

It's already clear that the UNITE structure will include a broader range of Equalities strands, as the Amicus one already does.

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