Thursday, June 03, 2010

We're too democratic to support democracy...?

A hat tip to the blogger who let me know during today's UNISON NEC the very good news from Manchester, where UNITE's Conference delegates overwhelmingly called upon Labour MPs to ensure that all declared candidates for the leadership receive sufficient nominations.

Regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger will know that I am a supporter of John McDonnell, but also that I think that there is a compelling argument for trade unionists to want to see a socialist on the ballot paper for Labour leader, whether or not you intend to vote for them.

I therefore shared with the NEC the news from UNITE and asked our General Secretary whether he thought UNISON Labour Link should consider making a similar call. As is so often the case at our NEC the answer which I received told me how well UNISON had already done. We had not wanted someone "shoehorned" in (unlike last time!) and that would not now happen. We had wanted a longer timetable and that would now happen.

We would now look at candidates for Labour Leader "as they come forward" with a view to making a recommendation having considered the stance of candidates on issues such as public services, trade unions and equalities. There would be hustings at the Labour Link Forum in July, but "we don't want to go further than that."

The structure of our NEC meetings, in which the General Secretary's report is followed by a question and answer session, lends itself to the occasional misunderstanding (never I am sure wilful) and of course this response missed the point that by the time we come to think about who to recommend to our members we will be well past the point at which the Parliamentary Labour Party(PLP) have decided for us from whom we can choose.

Trade unions which do not try now to influence nominations by MPs are - in effect - continuing to offer the PLP the same blank cheque we gave the last Government. This is not in the interests of our members, our Union or - for that matter - our Party.

I therefore pressed the point outside the meeting with the Chair of the Labour Link Committee, who explained that, because of the democratic structure of our political fund there was no - democratic - way in which we could decide to do what UNITE decided to do today.

Whereas UNITE Conference delegates (elected by UNITE members) are able to take a decision about UNITE's political work, UNISON democracy precludes such an obviously undemocratic arrangement.

Instead we will have a National Labour Link Forum, composed of delegates elected indirectly on the basis of a range of different systems employed in different Regions, all of whom must be individual Labour Party members. In London delegates are elected on the basis of "branch block votes" (cast by individual Labour Link officers or Branch Secretaries with or without consultation with members).

So you see, dear reader, that much as many in UNISON might wish to support the democratic demand that Labour Party members, and levy payers, should be able to choose from the full field of declared candidates for Party Leader, it is democracy itself that prevents us from doing anything, at all, to try to influence events. It's not at all that we don't want to back candidates from the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs because we are simply trying to choose which Ed to back.

Our General Secretary would, of course, never pre-empt the "democracy" of UNISON Labour Link by calling upon them to act before they had taken the relevant decision...

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