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Sunday, 21 July, 2002, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Derek Simpson, general secretary, Amicus
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
PETER SISSONS: Now this week Tony Blair's closest trade union ally Sir Ken Jackson was defeated in a vote for the leadership of the country's second largest union Amicus. On Thursday a left-wing candidate Derek Simpson was declared the winner after four recounts and last night Sir Ken finally accepted defeat. The result follows an upsurge in left-wing support which has produced a shift in the leadership of several unions reflecting a growing dissatisfaction with government policy. Well with me is the winning candidate himself, Derek Simpson. Derek first of all your reaction to Ken Jackson's withdrawal?
DEREK SIMPSON: I think it should have happened sooner but I think for the sake of our union and the media coverage that it's received it's welcome indeed that it's happened now at least.
PETER SISSONS: There has been some media coverage about you of course, union bullies are back, the dinosaurs are back, do those, how do you react to that sort of press you've been getting?
DEREK SIMPSON: Well it's amazing, it truly is amazing, I suppose that it's to be expected, there's clearly pressure and concern about what is happening in the trade union movement. But I've read with some amusement some of the stories in the newspaper this morning describing me as a, as a dinosaur which is, which is incredible. And apparently I've been plotting some sort of wave of strikes - I have to say to all my members and to members of the public this is paper talk, it's absolute nonsense, I'm simply about reflecting the views of our members and I think what needs to be understood when compared with the '70s is that there is a piece of legislation that requires ballots before industrial action. Now that means that every individual member has to ballot, no union leader, whether they're a dinosaur or not, can bring people into industrial dispute without those people vote for it.
PETER SISSONS: And you wouldn't seek to have any of that legislation changed or the rules on secondary picketing or any of that sort of stuff?
DEREK SIMPSON: Well...
PETER SISSONS: That would bring back the scenes of the '70s?
DEREK SIMPSON: The question of balloting before industrial action is absolutely clear, I'm a democrat, I believe that the members have the right to decide and, and I uphold that and don't seek to change it and I think that that, that's a clear message, the only people that can get involved in disputes are the members themselves.
PETER SISSONS: But what's your political agenda, well yesterday we heard John Edmunds, were you at this conference by the way?
DEREK SIMPSON: No I wasn't, no.
PETER SISSONS: He said, I've come not to praise New Labour but to bury it. I mean is the political agenda for you and other left-wing union leaders now to bury New Labour?
DEREK SIMPSON: Well I don't think that that's been part of my campaign and I think the question here is it's the same with our union, the leadership of our union, Sir Ken Jackson and its supporters are divorced from the rank and file members, they do not represent the rank and file view and that's been demonstrated in this ballot. The incredible turn over of an established figure like Sir Ken Jackson by the man from nowhere, as I've been described, really it's the reflection of the rank and file members. Now I believe that the Labour Party has got the same problem as our union have, it's divorced from its roots.
PETER SISSONS: But the executive of your union historically has enormous power, it's a powerful union executive and the...
DEREK SIMPSON: As it should be.
PETER SISSONS: The permanent officials have enormous power...
DEREK SIMPSON: Yes.
PETER SISSONS: To act in, when the members can't, can't be consulted quickly?
DEREK SIMPSON: I'm pleased that you've raised that because you're quite right, the officials have enormous power, that's why I want them to be elected. At the moment they're appointed, I believe in democracy, I think that the members of our union have the right to elect their officials.
PETER SISSONS: But when only 25 per cent of the, of the electorate elects then it's hardly democracy?
DEREK SIMPSON: Well is it higher or lower than the local government elections, is it higher or lower than the parliamentary elections.
PETER SISSONS: But the big sanction that you have of course when you, when you talk to ministers and presumably you have a political agenda ???
DEREK SIMPSON: I've never spoken to a minister.
PETER SISSONS: No.
DEREK SIMPSON: It's quite difficult to say what it will be like.
PETER SISSONS: Oh well.
DEREK SIMPSON: I, I haven't got that, that agenda.
PETER SISSONS: Well you, obviously at some stage you will and the big lever that you have, like all the unions, is money, you, you are the paymaster, or one of the paymasters. What's your instinct here, is it to use the, the union's money and you pay - what? A million year to the Labour Party?
DEREK SIMPSON: I, I'm not proxy to the figure because our union's not being run as a, an open democracy.
PETER SISSONS: But I read somewhere today a million a year?
DEREK SIMPSON: It's actually significantly higher than that but I don't know the figure so I...
PETER SISSONS: Your inclination to use that as a lever to say we'll turn off the tap if you don't stop, stop pursuing some of the things that we want done?
DEREK SIMPSON: It's a question, it's a question of being asked a great deal, I'm sure, and in view of the views this morning about the finances of the Labour Party then, then we can see why the concern is. Nothing in my election material suggested any change whatsoever and let make it clear I'm a member of the Labour Party and a supporter of the Labour government. My concern would be about policy and not about existence. I intend to ensure a Labour government continues, I intend to applaud it for the things it does positively but I also intend to see that it understands the needs of our members and I don't believe they've been reflected by a previous leadership that's seen just as simple rubber stamp.
PETER SISSONS: Well one big change in policy at the top of your union of course, Ken Jackson was very pro-Euro, what's your view, are you going to campaign for or against the Euro when the time comes?
DEREK SIMPSON: I'm not going to do either at the moment, I'm not clear in my mind whether it's good or bad, I want to believe that we will have the information to make rational decisions and when we've got that our members will make a decision and it will be our members that determine the policy of our union, it won't be...
PETER SISSONS: You will consult the membership on it?
DEREK SIMPSON: Absolutely, absolutely, as on all issues.
PETER SISSONS: Derek Simpson thank you for coming in this morning.
DEREK SIMPSON: Thank you very much.
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