Who will be the leaders of Britain's major unions in 1993?
NEW Year changes in the trade-union movement will definitely see the
early retirement of civil servants' leader Mr Leslie Christie and
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possibly an announcement that TUC general secretary Mr Norman Willis
will follow suit.
Meanwhile, NUM president Mr Arthur Scargill -- as if he did not
already have enough on his plate -- seems set to defy the law requiring
him to stand for his first postal election, unless he too is
contemplating going early.
Leslie Christie, younger brother of STUC general secretary Campbell,
has decided to relinquish the general secretaryship of the National
Union of Civil and Public Servants he has held since NUCPS was formed in
1987 by the merger of the Society of Civil and Public Servants and the
smaller Civil Service Union.
Apparently disillusioned after fruitless attempts to conclude the
eminently logical merger of NUCPS with the Civil and Public Services
Association and the prospect of facing a prolonged period of pressure as
the Government promotes devolved pay bargaining and widespread
contracting out, the 53-year-old left-wing Glaswegian has decided to opt
out of the struggle.
Subject to the inevitable ballot, the reins, and the NUCPS seat on the
TUC general council that goes with them, will probably be handed over to
the former CSU general secretary, Yorkshireman Mr John Sheldon. One year
Mr Christie's junior, he will lead NUCPS into the difficult skirmishes
ahead with the lack of the oft-proposed but twice-rejected merger with
the CPSA serving to exacerbate the many problems.
Many within the TUC's Congress House HQ are awaiting Mr Willis's 60th
birthday on January 21 with anticipation. Since he let it be known that
he intends stepping down before his retirement date in five years, they
now hope that he will be more specific.
Gathering speculation that he might announce his intention to retire
after the 1993 September Congress, although maybe retaining the
presidency of the European Trades Union Confederation for a year or two,
will need to be addressed in order to remove the air of uncertainty that
pervades Congress House.
The heir-apparent is his deputy, Mr John Monks, although there is a
school of thought that NUPE general secretary Mr Rodney Bickerstaffe
might be in the running. He has become decidely less militant and more
statesmanlike during and since his recent one-year stint as TUC chairman
and is currently due to be number two to Nalgo's Mr Alan Jinkinson at
the new Unison ''super union'' being created in July from the
amalgamation of Nalgo, NUPE, and the health union Cohse.
Miners' president Arthur Scargill appears to be courting controversy
by seemingly dodging laws that were specifically tailored to ensure that
his future is submitted to a secret postal ballot of NUM members.
Although elected NUM president for ''life'' in 1981 in a landslide 70%
majority in a pit-head ballot, Mr Scargill evaded early Tory legislative
attempts to force him to face re-election by renouncing his casting vote
on the NUM executive.
In 1987 he outmanoeuvred impending legislation insisting on postal
ballots by opting for an early election under the old pit-head balloting
system -- which saw him returned by a much tighter 54% majority over
moderate North Yorkshire NUM miners' agent John Walsh.
He was thus restored to office for a five-year period taking him 11
days beyond his 55th birthday on January 11, 1993, which, under NUM
rules, would have allowed him to stay on until retirement at 60 without
further recourse to the ballot-box. That would have been the case but
for late amendments to the 1988 Employment Act enacted specifically to
ensure that the NUM president would have to face a full postal ballot by
January 22, 1993.
For reasons best known to himself, Mr Scargill has not started the
election process even though the high profile which the current coal
industry crisis has given him should surely see him romp home, probably
Anti-Scargill forces within the NUM, including the leadership of the
Scottish area, had hoped to come up with a credible candidate in the
form of Derbyshire miners' treasurer John Burrows (John Walsh being
precluded on age grounds). Reluctant to put his name forward in the
first place, Mr Burrows has said only that he is considering requests to
stand, and as Mr Scargill has not called for nominations, a legal
challenge may be the only way to force an election.
Whether Mr Burrows, or any other NUM member, would be prepared to
mount such a legal challenge, especially at a time when the bulk of the
mining industry is under threat of closure, remains to be seen.
Earlier this year the NUM's annual conference, with the full support
of the president, endorsed a policy of ''refusing to co-operate with
laws which are designed to render ineffective the rule books and
constitutions of trade unions, together with the democratic rights of
Mr Scargill seems to be stepping down that confrontation path -- but
why? Has he calculated that there is political capital to be gained from
being seen to be dragged into an election against his union's rule book
or does he fear the vagaries of a postal ballot in which only 20 to 25%
of members tend to participate compared with the almost 100% turnout in
Perhaps Scargill has secret plans to bow out within two years, in
which case he could probably avoid a ballot without breaching the law.
With NUM members plummeting to about 30,000, the bulk of whom would be
displaced if the present drastic pit closure programme goes ahead, who
could blame him?
Quitting is not his style, however, and I would not be surprised if
the whole episode was designed to pile pressure on prospective
challengers to stay their hands and leave the field clear for King
Arthur to return unopposed.