Activists meeting on 16 September have decided to launch a broad “Defend the Link” campaign, based on a statement issued in July which has already got wide support.
Keith Ewing will be the president of the new campaign, Mark Seddon will be chair, and Jon Lansman and Marsha-Jane Thompson will be joint secretaries. They are confident of winning the official support of at least some unions.
The campaign will be out and about as delegates will assemble on 21-22 September in Brighton for the Labour Party Conference 2013, in the shadow of Ed Miliband’s proposal to count out trade unionists who do not individually “opt in” to pay the political levy to Labour.
Former Labour general secretary Ray Collins was asked by Miliband to carry out a review on the Labour-union link, and into a “primary” (with non-members participating) for the selection of Labour’s London mayoral candidate.
Collins conducted an “interim review” over the summer. It is possible that he will provide an interim report to the Sunday (22 Sep) session of conference. Probably it will be a token affair. We hope so: we do not want a repeat of 2011, when a huge package of rule changes, entitled Refounding Labour, was bounced through conference with scarcely a chance even to read them and no speakers taken against them.
As we understand it, the Labour leadership then plans a “consultation process” culminating in a special conference, probably 1 March 2014. From past experience, the leadership will be hoping for a fix, in which Collins produces a report rubber-stamped by the National Executive Committee and then bounced through the special conference.
Yet we know that some even within the Miliband camp have misgivings about the danger of damaging the union link on which Labour depends, and most of the affiliated unions do not like Miliband’s plan at all. A vigorous campaign across the movement can force the leadership to back down.
Delegates for the spring conference will probably be the same as for the 2013 annual conference. The Defend the Link Campaign will organise to convince delegates and unions of the need to preserve the collective affiliation and voting power of the unions at its current level.
We should also resist any move by the Labour Party to try to force its affiliated unions to change their own rulebooks.
The opportunity for real decision-making by conference has been heavily curtailed since the changes imposed by Tony Blair in 1997.
Most policy is now just “announced” by the party leadership, with a desultory sham of consultation though policy commissions and the National Policy Forum.
Nevertheless, annual conference will debate some contemporary motions and rule changes to the party constitution.
The NHS Liaison Network is promoting a motion re-affirming last year’s unanimously-agreed policy, committing Labour to the repeal of the Health and Social Care Act, the cancellation of PFI debts and a reversal of cuts and marketisation.
On the Sunday morning of conference, Save Lewisham Hospital and other NHS campaigners will be outside the conference centre on the demonstration organised by Brighton People’s Assembly and Brighton Benefits campaign.
Rule-changes were submitted last year by a total of 21 CLPs. There is a one-year delay on rule changes from CLPs, though not the NEC. But five of the proposals have been ruled out of order by the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC), without grounds or on flimsy pretexts.
This year, for the first time in ages, there has been a strong campaign to elect democrats to the CAC: Katy Clark MP and Pete Willsman from the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD).
One rule-change, submitted by the train drivers’ union ASLEF, proposing to crack down on the hugely-funded Blairite organisation, Progress, has been withdrawn under pressure from the party leadership, and apparently without ASLEF wringing any concessions in return.
Of the two remaining rule-changes one, from Northampton Borough Labour Party, seeks to end open-ended suspensions of party members by reducing the period of suspension pending investigation to a year. The other, from Leyton and Wanstead CLP and Redcar CLP, would allow local Labour parties to elect their group leaders on councils through an electoral college, rather than leaving the decision in the hands of a small group of councillors. Delegates should support both.
Miliband cannot be allowed to come out of this conference without visible discontent from party members and trade unionists over his threats to the collective affiliation of the unions.