Trade unions are democratic bodies - unlike, say, employers! All have rule books which, though they could be improved, allow members to have a vote in electing their representatives and deciding policy. But not only do we need to improve union democracy, we must defend it against abuse. Examples:
- Much to the chagrin of the general secretary, a TSSA branch successfully moved at the recent conference that TSSA should only back candidates for the Labour leadership who are committed to public transport and renationalisation. What did the leadership then do? Backed Gordon Brown for Leader and Peter Hain for Deputy! Both of them well-known opponents of bringing the railways back into public ownership.
Feathers are flying among outraged rank-and-file members, and quite right too. It is a key part of democracy that the leadership must carry out conference decisions, whether they agree with them or not.
- Our unions need to be democratic not just at the top but locally too. Branch officers should not, for example, close down or try to cancel meetings on spurious grounds if they fear they will make decisions they don't like.
Off The Rails offers our support to union members who are up against branch officers who do this. And if the national executive lets them get away with it, there must be a national response to defend democracy.
- One more thing. Violence is very bad for union democracy. No union should tolerate it.