The establishment of the Labour Party to give a political voice to the trade union movement was a historic achievement. Even today, after more than a decade during which the Party has been firmly in the grip of Blairite, pro-capitalist interlopers, the link between the unions and the Party remains.
One of the objectives of the so-called Blair project, we should remember, was the breaking of the link and the remodelling of the Party along the lines of the US Democratic Party. In this the project failed spectacularly. The unions still retain 50% of the vote at Party conference, most Labour MPs rely on union donations to fund their election campaigns, and it is the cash from union members’ dues that keeps the Party afloat.
Has the Party always acted firmly in the interests of working people and their families? Sadly not. Have the union leaders always used their muscle to press for measures that favour their members? Clearly not. Today, the retention of the Tory anti-union laws and the continuing binge of privatisation of public services, which has accelerated under New Labour, stand as testament to the failure of the union leaders to use the enormous power of the movement to challenge anti-working class policies.
Many Unison members have been disgusted at the way the leadership of our union not only failed to come out in support of John McDonnell, the only leadership candidate to have consistently voted and campaigned on policies democratically passed at our conferences, but deliberately blocked his campaign, failing even to mention his candidacy in membership publications. The Scottish Labour Link committee’s decision to back John was a reflection of the strength of feeling among the membership.
Members pay their political levy for a reason: to ensure their views and interests are represented on the Party’s NEC, at national conferences and at discussions between union leaders and the Labour Government.
It is no exaggeration to say that the majority of Unison members are in the dark when it comes to the activities of our Party NEC delegates. Most APF payers see the Labour Link as a shadowy body operating outside their scrutiny and under the control of unelected paid officials.
We must demand that the Labour Link represent the views of those members who pay their affiliated political levy, that elections be open and democratic, and that regular reports be provided to all APF payers by the Party NEC delegates.
We recognise that the problem of bureaucratic control of the APF cannot be solved by organisational reform alone. Bureaucracy thrives when there is a low level of activity in both the unions and the Party. The question of transforming the Labour Link is a political issue that goes hand in hand with the building of a fighting, democratic union.
However, democratic reform is essential if we are to ensure the views and interests of the members are truthfully and forcefully represented within the Party, as well as to encourage members to become active in the Labour Link.
There are huge regional anomalies in elections to LL committees. In London, for example, the regional committee is elected on the basis of one ballot paper per branch, delivered to the branch secretary. This is clearly a ridiculous state of affairs which denies Affiliated Political Fund payers their democratic rights. In the North West region, delegates to the biennial regional forum elect their regional committee, with votes weighted according to the number of APF payers in the branches they represent. The North West region conducts elections to the national committee by individual ballot of every APF payer, with hustings where there is a contest.
These anomalies must be addressed, and democratic procedures put in place in all regions. We demand:
- An individual ballot of all APF payers in elections of regional committees, with hustings organised by the regional Labour Link officials.
- Individual ballot, with hustings, in elections of regional members of the national committee.
The union’s delegates to the Party’s NEC to be elected by individual ballot. Election addresses to be circulated to all APF payers. Delegates to provide written reports of their interventions and voting patterns after each NEC meeting, to be circulated to all APF payers.
We also demand the retention of a proportion of dues by each branch for use specifically in Labour Link activities. This will facilitate the setting up of active Labour Link branches by providing funds to publicise our activities to branch members and allow us to conduct local political campaigns. Active Labour Link branches will allow us to ensure that delegations to Party GCs are taken up, through which we can bring pressure to bear on councillors and MPs.
We must place the Labour Link firmly in the hands of the membership and make it an effective weapon for demanding an end to PFI and the privatisation of public services, an end to two-tier terms and conditions, an end to low pay and redundancies. We must turn the Labour Link into a fighting body that demands socialist policies.
by Mark Turner, Branch Secretary,
Cardiff County; Terry McPartlan, Sunderland Local Government; Ray
McHale, Cheshire Labour Link Officer; Pam Woods, Islington Local
Government (all in personal capacity).