Amicus was the United Kingdom's second-largest trade union, and the largest private sector union, formed by the merger of Manufacturing Science and Finance, the AEEU (Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union) agreed in 2001, and two smaller unions, UNIFI and the GPMU. Amicus also organises in both parts of Ireland and is affiliated to the UK Trades Union Congress, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Scottish Trades Union Congress.
During 2005 discussions started between the TGWU, Amicus and the GMB about the possibility of merging the three unions into one organisation with potentially 2.5 million members covering almost every segment of the economy. On 14 June 2006 the GMB Conference voted not to continue with discussions although the other two unions pursued merger talks. A recall conference of the TGWU held on 18 December 2006 supported the merger (Amicus did not hold a recall conference), and a ballot of both unions' membership during February and early March 2007, also approved the merger. The result of the ballot was announced on 8 March 2007: 70.1% of Amicus members and 86.4% of T&G members voted to support the merger, from a turnout of 27%. The press release announced that the resulting union had the working title "New Union" and the name would be decided by a ballot of the membership. However, on 2 April, The Times reported that the name Unite had been chosen.
In early April 2007, the BBC announced that Amicus was to begin discussions with North American union, United Steelworkers, about a possible merger. If successful, it would create an international "super union" with more than 3 million members, more able to pressure multinational companies and their managers. This project eventually became Workers Uniting, a proposed union resulting from the merger of the United Steelworkers and Amicus' successor Unite.
Amicus has a corporate office at 35 King Street in London's Covent Garden, and its main administrative centre, Hayes Court, is at Bromley in south-east London. The union runs two of its own colleges, Esher Place at Esher in Surrey and Quorn Grange at Loughborough in Leicestershire, and is a major user of Wortley Hall near Sheffield. A further facility, Whitehall College in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire is currently inactive, following a survey which revealed the presence of large amounts of asbestos which will be expensive to remove.
The union operates many other offices across the British Isles to support activity in each of the union's 12 regions. The four unions forming Amicus each had a fully-developed network of offices to support their own operations; there is an ongoing exercise to co-locate staff from geographically-adjacent offices in order to reduce the property portfolio.
An Amicus region typically contains several hundred branches, each of which represent a smaller group of members, running local campaigns on their behalf and providing a means for members to socialise with one another and increase their involvement in Amicus and the wider union movement. Nationally, there are about 1900 branches. Branches are typically organised on a workplace, geographical or sectoral basis, and vary in size from a few dozen to several thousand members. One reason for the wide variation in branch size and type is that, during the numerous union mergers which culminated in the formation of Amicus, branches were often not forced to merge. For this reason many branches are still based on the structures that existed in long-disappeared unions such as TASS. Some branches are inactive, for example because the workplace they represented no longer exists. In 2005, Amicus began a consultation on reorganisation of branches, primarily intended to close inactive branches or merge them with neighbouring ones which are more active. Not surprisingly this reorganisation was of some concern to branch activists, and prompted a number of neighbouring branches to voluntarily merge in order to pre-empt any action from the centre. Other branches, for example those in the voluntary sector, are by their nature small, and have made representations to the NEC and the General Secretary in which they pointed out that a small branch is not necessarily an inactive one. As of October 2006 the results of the branch consultation have not been published.
In general, committees of the union from branch level upwards must be composed of lay members elected by the group of members they represent, as per MSF custom and practice. A notable exception is for the secretary of a regional or national committee, who is usually a Full-Time Officer employed by the union. However, within the AEEU, branches were often chaired by Officers.
A rule change in 2005 provided for the establishment of Area Activist Quarterlies (also known as Area Committees) consisting of workplace representatives and branch officers from a given geographical area, to be smaller than the existing Regions. These resemble the AEEU's District Committees. The first Quarterlies took place in April 2006, and will be convened four times per year. The primary purpose of the Quarterlies is to allow local activists to share information on local issues such as redundancies and industrial disputes, and co-ordinate local campaigns.
Amicus conferences are organised on a two-yearly cycle with national Policy Conferences taking place in odd-numbered years, and sectoral, national equality and regional branch conferences being held in the intervening years. This differs with MSF and AEEU arrangements where national conferences took place on an annual basis. Similarly, Regional Councils meet every two months as opposed to monthly under MSF.
Due to the two-yearly cycle, Amicus does not have a President, because legislation requires the position to be elected annually - either by delegates to annual conference, or the entire membership. In view of the cost of a national postal ballot, the Chair of the NEC was given the role of chairing the 2005 Policy and Rules Conferences.
The first and only Rules Conference of Amicus took place in 2005. The next Rules Conference was planned to take place in 2009, but following the merger with the T+G it is now likely to take place in 2010, as part of the wider Unite union.
Amicus wrote and created the role of the Trade Union Disability Champion@Work. Funded initially by a European grant under the Year of Disabled People 2003 there are now over a thousand Champions from nearly 40 trade unions operating in workplaces across the UK and Ireland. for more information visit www.disabilitychampions.com.