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LABOUR REPRESENTATION COMMITTEE CONFERENCE

 ‘DEFEND THE LINK -  DEFEND THE WELFARE STATE’

 NOVEMBER 23RD 2013 – CONWAY HALL LONDON

Background

With around 150 delegates this year’s conference appeared to be a lot smaller than previous years, but it was not clear why. One left group claimed it was because of splits in the LRC over some issues and the way it was run, but Pete Firman (CWU) told me this was not the case. Others suggested it was general demoralisation over Labours relative poor performance so close to an election. It may of course been down to the economics of attending a London conference from other parts of the country.

Speakers

Mark Serwoka (PES) questioned why Britain had not seen the level of fight back industrially or against austerity witnessed across Europe. One reason was the Labour Party leadership were trying to outflank the Tories on their policies. For example Rachel Reeves first speech as shadow Work and Pensions Secretary was to state that Labour would be tougher on welfare. He said the LRC should direct itself more to action than debate.

Phillipe Marliere (Front de Gauche) spoke on the situation in France. Hollande had carried on with the same policies pursued by Sarkozys agenda and as a result was now the most unpopular leader ever even worse than Sarkozy. Loopholes have been increased for the rich whilst VAT has been increased generally.

He said that this unpopularity did not signify a shirt to the right as such because polls also showed support for left policies.

My (IW) opinion is that there is a danger that the Front National already gaining support will win more if they adopt some of these left policies.

Jeremy Corbyn MP spoke on the international perspective criticising David Cameron for saying the World War 1 anniversary would be a cause for celebration. The affects of the redrawing of the Middle East maps after the war had led to the crisis we have now in that region.

He referred to Clement Atlee in 1949 spending £200 million developing nuclear weapons without authority from parliament and the hypocrisy of granting India independence whist still fighting colonial wars in the Far East. He also warned that Venezuela was facing the same threat as Chile under the Allende government

Defending the Link

Andrew Berry (Unison) said the attack on unions within the party was a distraction from fighting the Tories. The Party would only be built on policies not organisational restructuring. The unions should be seeking nothing less than the current 50% vote at conference.

Maria Excell (CWU) said the argument was not just about Labour Party mechanics but about the future of workers representation in parliament. She quoted Billy Hayes who has said that without the link there will be more posh people in Westminster. She said the proposals were part of New Labours agenda and was pandering to the current anti politics views in society. Those in society who were arguing that Party politics was no longer relevant sought to separate the labour movement from party representation.

Ian Hodson (Bakers union) gave a rousing speech saying that as trade unionists we believe in collectivism. Mass membership of the party would not be achieved, if individual union members have to choose between buying a pair of shoes or joining the Labour Party. It was important they were involved through their trade unions.

Parliament was only representative of a small minority of society we had to strengthen the link not just defend it if we were to see more MPs from a workers background

He referred to the recent Wigan Hovis dispute where striking workers were made redundant and replaced with agencies on minimum wages. The battle that followed led to the reinstatement of the original workforce and the employment of some of the agency workers on the union rates of pay. The people of Wigan would never allow an employer to trample over workers.

One delegate made the point that only two hours has been set aside for the link debate at the special Labour Party spring conference.

Resolutions

Emergency Resolution

An Emergency Resolution from Brent and Harrow LRC on the Grangemouth dispute and Royal Mail privatisation referred to these as being ‘colossal defeats’ and attacked the union leaderships for providing no strategy. The mover said that Billy Hayes had led the membership into privatisation.

Unusually this resolution was voted on paragraph by paragraph with the only one of the four being carried being the reference to ‘colossal defeat’. I voted against this because I do not regard the defeat on privatisation as pessimistically as this, otherwise we might as well pack up activity.

Maria Excel (CWU) spoke on one paragraph saying it was not true that the union had no strategy in the campaign, and although there may be some criticism of the campaign, the fight carries on a number of fronts in terms of the future of Royal Mail. This paragraph was lost, as well as one attacking the Labour leadership for its lack of involvement in fighting privatisation and positively helping the Tories in terms of Grangemouth, and one seeking to create a rank and file trade union body that challenged the current leadership. In particular it sought to get LRC to affiliate to Grass Roots Left in Unite but as one delegate stated this is not the only left grouping in Unite and it would be wrong to back one group.

My position (IW) is that the role of the LRC should be to coordinate support for campaigns and action by CLPs, trade unions and other affiliates but it should not involve itself in the democracy of trade unions.

Resolutions Carried

Fire Service Cuts – A resolution from Islington CLP moved by Gary Heather (ex-CWU) supported the FBU’s action against pension cuts and defending the service. It also condemned Boris Johnsons plan to close 10 fire stations, axe 14 fire engines and 550 jobs against the advice of the Fire Authority, London Assembly and 94% of those in a public consultation. Some London boroughs were set to take legal action against the Mayors proposals. This was carried.

Defend the Link – Defend collective affiliation by trade unions to the party, retention of the current voting strengths of unions in the Party structures. Campaign to defeat proposals at the spring conference that undermine this.

Railways/Royal Mail – RMT moved that Party should implement conference policy of renationalising the railways and Royal Mail. The party should carry out a comprehensive costing of the railways. Currently the East Coast line has ploughed millions of pounds into the treasury whilst Virgin has ploughed millions to Richard Branson.

Energy Prices – The CWU moved that the current Energy regulation did not benefit the workforce or consumer. The resolution called for a public ownership of energy, water, telecoms and postal industries in order to have full regulation and planning in these areas.

Fracking – Sussex LRC moved that the fracking process was causing environmental damage and called for a public enquiry into fracking, support for protests from Labour MP’s, repeal of tax breaks from fracking, replaced with breaks for other renewable sources and a commitment to meeting UK carbon reduction targets.

Resolution Carried with Amendments

European Elections- A long debate on Europe elections and referendum led to the deletion of a paragraph in the resolution that opposed withdraw because it would pander to nationalism. The conference also carried an amendment adding that there should be an extensive debate in the LRC to establish its position. The main body of the motion opposed the current format of the European Union and called for a socialist programme in Labours European election campaign.

Resolutions Lost

Political Funds - A resolution opposing opting out of political funds by trade union members was opposes on the grounds that could lose members when we need to be building. This was lost

Syria – A resolution argued that the opposition forces as being backed by Western capitulation and therefor there should be support for the victory of Syrian Army. This would be a defeat for capitalism and strengthen the workers against Assads regime.

Thus argument was rejected on the ground that the Assad Government were responsible for many of the atrocities in the war, whish even the resolution noted by the line ‘despite brutal tyranny by Assad’

It was wrong that support should be given to the Syrian government on the ground that some of the opposition forces are backed by the West which is the main enemy.

In my view this is slightly akin to the Stalin - Hitler pact at the start of WW11 where support for Hitler from Stalin was seen as defeating Western capitalism. The events later proved to be a costly mistake in terms of lives lost.

LRC Elections

Pete Firman (CWU Gtr. Lon) was re-elected as Political Secretary and Maria Excell (CWU Gtr. London combined) is on the NC as is Gary Heather (CWU retired).

There are also two seats for the CWU as an affiliate who last year were Pete Keenlyside (retired) and Mick Kavanagh.

 

 


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