Thursday, 24 January 2008

What future for our sector?

I posted recently about the future structure of UNITE, reporting that I'd heard the rules commission had a draft of the sectors for UNITE and that this would go out for consultation. I've still seen nothing official, even as an Amicus NEC member, but am picking up rumours via the officer force that the proposal involves our sector being broken up.

What I've heard is that the intention is to join the Electrical Engineering and Electronics parts of the sector (the majority) with something else (haven't heard what) and create a new "IT and Communications" sector.

When the EEE&IT sector was first set up, many people in the manufacturing part of it were unhappy that they had been grouped with a "service" industry that seemed quite different. I think this feeling was accentuated by the fact that both NEC members and the National Officer all had more of an IT background than manufacturing. I think this feeling has started to break down over the last few years, as people realise just how much we have in common. Nonetheless, many members in Electrical Engineering and Electronics feel no particular affinity with the IT industry. I think their reaction to any reorganisation would depend on what they were grouped with instead.

The position for people in the IT industry is of more concern. "IT and Communications" sounds innocuous - indeed in many contexts people refer to IT as ICT - "Information & Communication Technology". But from what I hear, the "Communication" bit isn't about telecomms or networking, but about lumping us together with the "Communication Managers Association" (CMA).

The CMA has over 10,000 members who are mostly managers in Royal Mail.

The CMA had a long legal battle with Amicus (it is not my preference that trade unionists allow judges to resolve their differences).

While I think it is great that managers in any company are organised in a trade union, they will never be the bedrock of effective union organisation. In Royal Mail, where the CWU has been fighting job cuts, privatisation and bullying, many managers are on the wrong side of the argument.

I attended a demonstration in Burslem on Saturday in support of 12 suspended CWU members. Royal Mail is bringing in managers from elsewhere in an attempt to cover the work and break the strike. Only this week a member showed me a copy of a letter (given to them by someone they knew in the CWU) from CWU General Secretary Billy Hayes to Derek Simpson, asking him to investigate the scabbing at Burslem - allegedly by CMA members.

There is no industrial logic to grouping IT workers with Royal Mail managers, and I believe doing so would impair our ability to organise in a vital and growing sector of the economy.

Members in EEE&IT should await the proposals for the new sector structure of UNITE with great attention and make sure their views are heard if necessary.

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