On 23 and 24 June 2012, Young Labour held its annual conference in Newcastle. There were over 200 people in attendance, predominantly university students but with noticeable groups of workers and trade unionists, and some under 18s (who won a debate about the extension of the vote to 16 year olds).
The Labour Representation Committee was the largest grouping present, and gave out bulletins on both days, organised fringe meetings, and spoke successfully on many left-wing motions.
The priority campaign decided by the conference was youth homelessness. In workshops and a plenary session, the conference decided that this campaign should not be charity-based, but focused on the root causes of homelessness.
Appropriately, conference decided that Labour should commit to building at least one million new council houses, to ease the waiting list of five million in England and Wales alone, and the wealth of the nationalised banks should be used to fund socially useful projects such this.
Additionally, we agreed there should be more sites made available for travellers, and to fight for housing equality for migrant and Roma communities. There was widespread condemnation of the eviction of Dale Farm, and the conference’s guest speaker Ed Balls was sharply questioned about pandering to racist sentiments in statements about immigration, fuelling anti-Roma prejudice in the country.
The tripling of youth homelessness in the last year gave urgency to the suggestion that councils should use compulsory purchase orders on abandoned housing and vacated property used for financial speculation, and put them into the social housing stock, as well as to introduce rent caps.
Finally, members of the LRC worked hard to win a tight debate about opposition to the right to buy.
Other important policy related to jobs and the economy. Conference decided that investment into green technology would aid the fight against climate change as well as provide new jobs, and that these jobs should benefit working class people (for example, fitting new council homes with solar panels) rather than be about offering tax reductions to big businesses for recycling a little bit more.
Conference agreed that we should campaign for a cap on rail fares and for rail fares not to rise above inflation, and that Labour should pledge to renationalise the railways.
Many delegates stated that the railways were a minimum, and we should discuss the nationalisation of major industries, all public transport, and energy and public utility companies.
Conference also agreed that we must fight for workers’ rights, and that forthrightly means repealing the anti-trade union laws that severely hinder workers’ rights to organise, as well as imposing a moratorium on sackings, encouraging young workers to join trade unions, all new public works jobs created by the government to include union membership as mandatory, and pushing for a 35 hour working week, so that the overworked can have more time off, and the underworked can earn a wage.
We also agreed that the national minimum wage should be equalised, and there should be no reduced levels of the minimum wage, whether for age or apprenticeships.
There were additionally many useful skill-based sessions, about speech writing, debating, and campaigning, and we reaffirmed the Labour Party’s promise to reinstate Educational Maintenance Allowance and to build more schools.
The LRC organised a fringe meeting on the Saturday night, in which a Unison activist spoke about the Newcastle Metro cleaners’ strike, and campaigning trade unionism. We were able to raise around £100 for the cleaners fighting against wage cuts.
The structure of the conference needed much improvement. Without a formal set of procedures, there was often confusion from the floor about how to speak to motions or make changes to the agenda. More than once a chair’s discretion was used in place of an agreed-upon set of rules. Many noted that a few basic procedures, such as being able to add amendments to motions. would have greatly improved the running of the conference.
There is also the element of democracy that comes with standing orders, such as being able to elect and remove a chair, taking minutes, everyone having the same time to speak, and having formal written motions submitted. A petition was circulated, which garnered just over 100 signatures, calling for next year’s conference to implement changes such as the ones mentioned above.
Please contact us at www.lrcyouth.org.uk if you would like to sign the petition (or maybe get your CLP or Labour Club to pass a motion in support), and be involved in the campaign for democracy at Labour Youth Conference before next year, and to organise with like-minded socialists within the Labour Party.