Union leaders' "concordat" with New Labour

Submitted by AWL on 7 August, 2004 - 7:14

This is an abridged version of a report from the Labour Party National Policy Forum on 23-25 July 2004 written by Ann Black (a "Centre Left Grassroots Alliance" member of Labour's National Executive) and circulated by email.

The National Policy Forum discussed the content of New Labour's manifesto for the next general election. Under the Labour Party's current rules, Labour Party conference at the end of September gets only a take-it-or-leave-it vote on this, with amendments debarred. The only vote on detail will be where a sufficiently strong minority from the Forum insists.

Ann Black reports a couple of such possible contests, and other issues where the Blair-Brown line was carried via a "concordat" with union leaders.
A record 152 delegates/substitutes, out of a maximum 183, were present on Sunday morning, raising the threshold for a minority position to go to conference to 38 votes (25% of the total). Initial paperwork suggested that 27 amendments would go to the vote on Prosperity for All, 19 on Sustainable Communities and 12 on Health and Education.

However the 4 a.m. concordat with the unions covered the same issues as the first 27, and constituency representatives withdrew all their amendments. These had included restoring the link between the basic pension and earnings, introducing a single minimum wage irrespective of age, requiring employers to reinstate unfairly- dismissed staff, and guaranteeing employment rights from either Day One or after six months.

Mark Seddon proposed an amendment which would prevent companies making windfall profits from selling on their shares in PFI deals, but this was lost by 16 votes to 122.

The unions have certainly achieved substantial gains. Employees will now be guaranteed 20 days' paid holiday in addition to bank holidays, as in the rest of Europe. Striking workers will be protected from dismissal for 12 weeks instead of the current eight weeks.

The two- tier workforce may at long last be on its way out across all public services. New measures against violence at work are promised. The particular disadvantages that affect women in retirement will be addressed in a report on women and pensions in 2005.

But many issues are subject to further review, or local negotiation, and I am worried that anything which does not trouble the director of the CBI cannot entirely meet the expectations of working people. I hope that I am wrong.

Local government also operated effectively during the weekend, and settled most issues except for the vexed question of why competent councils were not allowed the same resources as external organisations if tenants chose to remain under their control, the so- called "fourth option" after PFI, stock transfer to a housing association, or an arm's-length management organisation. The Forum voted 131 in favour, none against, for a composite wording which includes the clause

"However, Labour also recognises the need for new housing could be assisted by allowing local authorities to once again build new homes for rent. In areas where rental properties are inadequate in number, approval could be given for limited local authority funded developments to ensure that our communities are not weakened by the shortage of affordable rented properties."

A second amendment was moved by Daniel Zeichner, stating that

"Labour will also ensure that where tenants choose to remain under the management of their local authority, they will not be financially disadvantaged - funds available for stock transfer will be equally available to councils, ensuring a level playing-field."

This gained 64 votes with 73 against, meaning that conference will decide, unless further negotiations over the summer make this unnecessary.

Eight similar amendments were then withdrawn... The only remaining contentious amendment called for the railways to be taken back into public ownership. Moved by Harriet Yeo, this attracted 40 votes in favour with 90 against, leaving the final decision to conference.

(On schools) lengthy negotiations produced a composite text which proponents claimed would lead to the end of all selection including the grammar/secondary modern divide. This was carried by 144 votes to 7.

But can we really spin the same statement to members as "we will end the 11-plus" and to voters as "your grammar school is safe"? I had compromised on every other issue, but felt that on this my mandate from constituencies, forums and individual members was too clear to break.

I moved the first amendment, which was lost by 15 votes to 118, and supported Carol Hayton who moved the second, which was lost by 18 votes to 119...

Further votes were held on ending charitable status for prestigious private schools, lost by 15 votes to 115, though a composite amendment requiring them to demonstrate their public benefit to the Charity Commission was carried.

Pete Willsman also proposed a grant for living costs for the least well-off students, lost by 14 votes to 114, and taking disadvantaged students' backgrounds into account when considering admission to higher education, lost by 17 votes to 118.

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