Unite the union held its rules conference in Brighton this week.
About 500 delegates debated motions from sectors, branches, equalities committees and regions.
Two key and contested debates were about the election of union officials and the union’s political structures and affiliation to the Labour Party.
Unite members do not elect any paid officials other then the General Secretary. There were many different motions calling for the election of different types of officers by different constituencies. These motions all fell and the status quo prevailed.
This is a mistake. For the union to be accountable to workers, officials who make decisions on behalf of workers should be elected by those workers. It is clear that some of the details of how this would work in practice need to be fleshed out to win delegates over.
Unite also voted down the various motions to disaffiliate from the Labour Party or to support a “variety of candidates”.
Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for the Labour leadership and Unite’s Executive’s decision to back him, which was announced on Sunday, energised conference. I spoke against disaffiliation on the grounds that for as long as the affiliated unions still have power within the Labour Party, they should exercise this power to win the party to working-class politics.
The unions have often failed to used this power. The disaffiliation motions were voted down by about 80% of delegates.
The very significant decision to delete from the rules the caveat “so far as it may be lawful” was not contested. General Secretary Len McClusky made clear this was about the existing trade union laws and the Tories’ planned new attack on the right to strike.
McClusky said you cannot defeat unjust laws unless you show your willingness to defy them or stand in solidarity with those who do.