On 23 September the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth voted to ban unions and local Labour Parties from putting motions on current political issues to any future Labour Party conference.
Labour Party policy-making will now be supervised by the Parliamentary-leadership-controlled “Joint Policy Committee”, and ratified by occasional take-it-or-leave-it referendums of the membership.
Union leaders had said as late as 12 September before that there was “no chance” of them supporting such rule changes. A few days before the conference, though, they all buckled.
Eighty per cent of the union votes were cast for banning motions, only 20% against - and most if not all of that 20% due to the Unison delegation voting the right way by mistake.
The cowed and depleted local Labour Parties voted 82%-18% to ban themselves and the unions from putting motions.
A meeting in London on 19 September, called under the auspices of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), started a fightback in the unions. It initiated an LRC leaflet opposing the rule changes, distributed in Bournemouth; it called for a further organising meeting on 3 November to rally trade unionists to call their leaders to account and fight for 2008 union conferences to mandate a union push to restore their political rights. (The ban is officially due for review at the 2009 Labour Party conference).
There will be further debate about this fightback at the LRC conference on 17 November.
Labour Party conference was effectively closed down this week, and some of the last vestiges of democracy eliminated. The left must now recognise that, even more than ever before, we need to re-establish the closest links to the wide range of struggles in our communities, from trade union fights to social movements, campaigning on issues from climate change to asylum rights. In this way we can build a progressive socialist force which in turn can effect a reclamation of the Labour Party.
John McDonnell MP
There is clearly a mood at conference that it is necessary to show loyalty to Gordon Brown to ensure electoral victory. However, the price has been not just to close down democracy at this year’s conference, but democracy at future conferences. It must be highly unlikely that the trade unions will be able to take back their votes in two years’ time, and of course that means not just that the block vote for the trade unions no longer exists, but that no CLP can any longer vote at conference to say what they want done.
The next step is to organise around policy but also to make sure that we have our voices heard in the party. We need to have democratic left forums within the party.
We need to rise to the political challenges of dealing with the proposed pay freezes, the future of Royal Mail, attacks on abortion rights, and make sure the Agency Workers’ Bill and the Trade Union Freedom Bill become realities. It is only by victories that the left will gain confidence in the Labour Party and be able to be a strong voice for working class people.
Katy Clark MP