THE leaders of big trade unions lined up behind Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth on Sunday to ensure that the conference cannot, in future, vote on motions proposing policies.
Two motions on rule changes were put to the conference and the results of the votes were announced yesterday. The changes proposed were that the Labour Party Conference will no longer vote on policy motions and that Labour’s draft manifesto will be put to a referendum of the party’s membership.
Ed Miliband, who heads Brown’s Cabinet Office, proposed the changes that mean constituency parties and unions can put motions for debate, but will not be able to vote on them to make them Labour Party policy.
Using the now familiar method of the Labour leadership, Miliband’s presentation of the issues was the opposite of the reality.
He said: ‘Under these reforms, the debates at conference will not just take place for four days and then disappear. They will shape the work of our policy-making throughout the year.
‘Under the proposed changes debate at the conference would not be the end of the matter but the start of serious work. The national policy forum with ministers, trade unions and constituency Labour parties will get down to the business on the detail and thrash out the tough questions.’
Miliband claimed that the proposed changes will be reviewed in two years time.
The leaders of the major unions, Derek Simpson of Amicus/Unite, Tony Woodley of the T&G/Unite, Dave Prentis of UNISON and Paul Kenny of the GMB said nothing in the debate.
More than that, the vote on both propositions was 84.5 per cent, indicating that the major unions lined up behind Brown’s changes.
The only well-known leader to address the conference in opposition to the abolition of the conference as the highest, policy-making body of the Labour Party, was Michael Meacher, MP, who is associated with the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs.
Meacher told the conference: ‘To remove contemporary resolutions and votes on important policy issues is a huge step backwards. It is not an advance in party democracy.
‘What is the point of conference if it is merely a talking shop and there is no way we can seriously influence the party leadership and the Government into changing course? The Labour Party isn’t a discussion organisation. It is about power.’
Meacher urged delegates to ‘forget any idea’ that the issue would be brought back in two years’ time.
It is well know that the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Brown have ignored the votes of Labour Party conferences on pensions, tuition fees, foundation hospitals and council housing.
Brown has gone further than this and the union leaders have given him and the Labour leadership carte blanche to ignore all the policies demanded by constituency parties and the trade unions in future.
The regional and national policy forums are select gatherings of those who are willing to engage in discussions and consultations that decide nothing, while the Labour leaders make policy unhampered by awkward votes.
Brown has made clear that the trade unions, which formed the Labour Party more than 100 years ago, can decide nothing in the Labour Party.
Millions of workers in the unions – engaged in struggles against the Brown government’s public sector pay cuts, attacks on pensions, and against its privatisation of the National Health Service, education, council services – can see that there is no place for them and their demands in the Labour Party.
It is time for the unions in the Trades Union Congress to organise and fund a trade union political representation committee, to sponsor socialist candidates in opposition to supporters of the Brown government.
This demands a struggle to build a new revolutionary leadership in the unions and kick out those leaders who refuse to fight pay cuts and privatisation, and voted to disenfranchise union members at the Labour Party Conference.
The Workers Revolutionary Party is building this new leadership in the unions to organise the struggle for a workers’ government that will implement socialist policies. Join the WRP today!