A union delegate reports from the conference
There was more open criticism of the Government at this year's conference, on the floor and in the fringes. Blair, his stance on the war, and his domestic policies are all unpopular. That needs to be followed up by union and constituency activists in the coming year.
Several constituencies and the rail union RMT had submitted motions critical of the Government on the Iraq war. However, conference rules allowed for only four "contemporary" motions to be debated. The big unions all decided to support each others' favourite motions, so they were the four that got to the conference floor: employment rights, pensions, manufacturing and foundation hospitals.
The debate on foundation hospitals was the most controversial of the conference. Party officials were in top gear, arm twisting delegates to maximise the vote against the Unison composite against foundation hospitals. All to no avail. The Unison composite was passed overwhelmingly in both the trade union and Constituency Labour Party (CLP) sections.
Another composite which vaguely favoured "decentralising the NHS" was defeated, largely due to union votes. It was moved and seconded by Blairite CLPs as if it were a motion hostile to the Unison position. That was a ruse so that spin-doctors could tell the press that the constituencies support the Government on public services.
Most significant, however, was the fact that the big unions had decided to combine on motions opposing the Government. They had combined on the National Executive, too, for the first time in years.
The National Executive failed to support the Unison motion by just 16 votes to 15. Two union delegates voted against the Unison motion, John Hannet from USDAW and John Keggie from the CWU. Steve Pickering from the GMB was absent.
The composite motion on employment rights was proposed by the GPMU and the TGWU. Referring to the Friction Dynamics and Imperial Home Décor disputes, they demanded an end to the exemption of small firms from recognition rights and the denial of rights at work for the first year of employment. An appeal for the rights of unions to control their own rulebook so they can expel fascists was also part of the composite, which was carried overwhelmingly.
There was some debate on the Iraq war, but with the platform's bland "Britain and the World" policy document (which was passed) as the only item on the floor. Jeremy Corbyn and Alice Mahon spoke against the Government. At a packed Tribune rally, both Robin Cook and Clare Short got as close as it is possible to calling Tony Blair a liar without actually saying the word.
The education debate showed that many delegates were clearly against top-up fees, but there was no motion on the table giving conference a chance to vote against the fees.
An important constitutional change carried in Bournemouth will allow, in future, the CLPs to choose four motions for debate at conference as well as the unions' four. From next year onwards the Blairites will have much more difficulty keeping issues off the agenda.