All members meetings can benefit trade unions

We republish this article from labourhub.org.uk as a contribution to the ongoing debate we have carried about different forms of CLP meetings (largely, delegate General Committees vs All Members Meetings). More from various perspectives soon!

By Dan Jeffery and Suzanne de Emmony, Streatham CLP

We are active trade unionists campaigning to switch to the one member one vote, ‘All Member Meeting’ CLP structure when Streatham CLP considers the matter on 31 January in a special meeting triggered by pro-Corbyn members using new rules brought in following Jeremy’s recent Democracy Review. That puts us at odds with the national leadership of some of the major unions, who are concerned that the change will dilute the influence of trade unions in local parties.

We’ve considered these arguments carefully because the trade union link is of paramount importance to us. But Streatham’s trade unions are not well served by the GC delegate structure. Theoretically, the delegate structure reserves spaces for delegates from local trade union branches. But it doesn’t operate like an electoral college: trade unionists don’t get a fixed proportion of the voting power at GC meetings, so it all comes down to who turns up on the night. Often there are barely any union delegates in attendance, and it has been years since a motion was moved by a union branch at GC: the only union motions have come through the local party branches and even these don’t get considered because of the backlog of motions at the mismanaged GC.

What’s more, the GC delegate system is abused by the Progress/Labour First CLP Officers to maintain their grip on the local party. They know that GC delegates are disproportionately older and less pro-Corbyn than your average Labour member, because standing for election as a delegate comes easier to long-standing members than new joiners, and because young people are often in short tenancies and have had to move by the time the AGM comes up. The list of delegates is a closely guarded secret, administered by the incumbent CLP officers who therefore always have the upper hand at the AGMs, knowing how many votes they need to remain in post. We asked them repeatedly which union branches were affiliated but they refuse to tell us.

Chuka’s people who run the CLP have systematically silenced organised labour within the local party. Senior union officials have been forced to intervene after the CLP secretary ailed to acknowledge notifications of affiliate delegates, and failed to include them in email circulations for up to a year. Previously two local shop-stewards sat on the CLP executive giving the trade union perspective at meetings, but at last year’s AGM the anti-Corbyn faction voted them off, replacing them with members of Community, ostensibly a steelworkers union which has been fined by the TUC for going behind the back of the GMB to sign a sweetheart deal with Asos, where GMB had been organising for years. These reps were supposedly elected 21-20 in votes of union delegates, but worryingly, it has since emerged that there are nowhere near 41 union delegates in existence, never mind in attendance at the AGM! The TULO is also a fulltimer at Community, having previously written for Progress, chaired Labour Students and sat as the student rep on Labour’s NEC. Needless to say, none of the three have ever bothered to turn up and unions have been unrepresented at Streatham CLP’s top table for the last year.

So by now you’ll appreciate there’s clearly a lot wrong with Streatham’s status quo. But there are also positive aspects of All Member Meetings which present opportunities for trade unionists. Unlike the GC system where each union branch has a maximum of five voting delegates, in AMMs there are no limits: every union member who is also a party member can attend and vote. No-one who had a vote in the GC would lose it in the AMM. Union branches could still pass motions, and then present them at the CLP meeting – and under the AMM, unlike in the GC, you could amass a huge turnout from your branch at that meeting to make sure it goes through. There will still be trade union reps and a TULO on the executive – and hopefully this year these roles will be filled by people who can be bothered to attend. And the fact that all can participate incentivises proper engagement with local union members at a grassroots level.

We wouldn’t say All Member Meetings are necessarily the right fit in every CLP. But Streatham’s GC is clearly not fit for purpose. So we urge Streatham trade unionists who are party members to join us tomorrow (Thursday) night, 7.30 pm at Lambeth College Clapham Common, to vote for AMMs so we can build a local party where organised labour matters and union voices are once again heard.

• Dan Jeffery is a member of Unison (Joint Vice-Chair and Joint Labour Link officer, Lambeth Unison) and Suzanne de Emmony is a member of Unite. Both write in a personal capacity.

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