UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Labour's constitutional changes - who will blink first?

As next month's Labour Party Conference edges closer it remains unclear whether Labour's NEC will press on with proposals to reduce the democratic rights of trade unions in the Party.

Responses to the 'Refounding Labour' consultation exercise are being evaluated and rule change recommendations will be considered by Labour's NEC on 15 September - ten days before Conference. In recent weeks all sides of the Party have been observing media silence with the exception of former deputy leader Lord Prescott - ready as ever to attack affiliated unions in order to justify his usefulness to the prevailing Labour Party establishment:

Following the closure of the consultation, the stakes were ratcheted up by unnamed Labour sources talking tough off the record "we cannot go on with a system in which unions have 50% of the vote at conference, and just three general secretaries of three unions control four-fifths of that union vote. Currently, the union leaders are playing hard ball but they need to wake up":

Some media commentators, such as ex-Editor of Tribune Mark Seddon, are predicting that the unions will not bend the knee to leadership demands to sacrifice our collective influence:  "the unions are rightly fed up of being everyone's whipping boy, and are extremely angry that those who apparently enjoy whipping them the most are quite happy to accept their largesse. They formed the Labour Party, and as their industrial wing are entitled to 50% of the conference vote. Labour isn't in government and the unions aren't as compliant. They may not play ball with Ed. It is as simple as that" http://iaindale.com/posts/the-unions-could-defeat-ed-miliband

Yet trade unionists who support the status quo should not be lulled into complacency as Conference approaches.

Pete Willsman, secretary of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, writing in Tribune highlighted "a three-pronged attack on the power of the unions within the Labour Party"

"They want registered supporters’ to have a vote for the leadership and deputy leadership by reducing the size of the union vote in the electoral college. They want to reduce the size of the union vote at the party conference by perhaps giving a vote to MP's and/or councillors and/or members of the National Policy Forum. This would destroy the current and justifiable balance of two equal wings in the party (50 per cent political and 50 per cent industrial). And they want to reduce the number of union representatives on the National Conference Arrangements Committee"

The dilemma facing Labour's leadership is that the constitutional changes cannot be secured without the agreement of the very unions in which too much power is concentrated according to Prescott and others.

Therefore this stand off is as much a test of the resolve of the affiliated unions to defend our collective political power as it is of Labour's leadership to 'refound' the party..

UNISONActive will report on developments in the lead up to the Labour Party Conference - which opens in Liverpool on Sunday 25 September.