Jane Golding and Matt Heaney report on the contemporary motion that Berlin members put together for Conference
Labour International Contemporary Motion: Conference 2015
Matt Heaney, of Labour International’s Berlin Group, explains how the draft contemporary motion about the Trade Union Bill put forward to the LICC and accepted by Conference came about, and Jane Golding, also of the Berlin Group and sponsored Delegate at Conference, recounts what happened to the contemporary motion at Conference, where it became part of a composite motion on the Bill.
Matt Heaney: As someone who let my membership lapse after moving to Germany in the pre-internet age and being informed after nudging Walworth Road, the then Labour HQ in South London, for some info about LI, that my "local branch" was in Frankfurt am Main, 6 hours' express train away, with a ticket probably costing more than one months' rent, I re-joined shortly after "that" exit poll, online. Having previously been active in my CLP and having help send motions from my then branch, to the GC, to the EC, who forwarded them to the NEC - though I doubt they were ever read by anyone outside the constituency - as well as maybe to party conference, proposing a motion on the important issue of the Trade Union Bill wasn't exactly something I had to think very hard about.
Not only because this nasty piece of Tory legislation is designed to prevent the tiny level of industrial action that exists in the UK and shackle the labour movement even further than is already the case - it was Blair who (correctly, but in his case, proudly) described Thatcher's anti-union laws as "the most restrictive in the western world" – but also because the proposed Bill will prevent the organic link between unions and our party by preventing them from funding the Labour Party, but because this issue is also relevant for Labour International.
As comrades who have experience of the labour movement in the UK, as well as (I would hope) the trade unions and labour legislation in the countries where we now live, we know that legislation such as that currently proposed by the Tories is not the norm in the democratic world. We know that the labour movement is internationally often more than tolerated and is seen as a useful and necessary element of democratic society, extending democracy from the parliament or the local authority into the community and the workplace. We know that trade unions - when given democratic freedom to operate - can be strong organisations which help to increase rights at work (or make paper rights a reality), improve pay and conditions, safeguard jobs and prevent unemployment, also supporting national economies at the same time.
It was not difficult to discover that other CLPs were submitting motions on this issue; there were also a number of model motions, circulated for example by the "Right to Strike" campaign which is helping to organise campaigning against the Trade Union Bill within UK unions. The number of words is always restricted, and every model motion seemed to be exactly 250 words!
A quick check with the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy on how to write a "contemporary motion" so it would probably not be ruled out of order was made - and we ended up with a proposal which included a number of relevant points not included in the other motions, relevant especially in a Labour International context:
- that strong economies are strong despite (or because of) their strong(er) labour movements and workers' rights far more wide-ranging than in the UK
- that the proposed legislation is considered to be contrary to European human rights legislation
- that ILO norms are not implemented adequately in the UK
- and that we need to take the best from other EU member states and argue for something positive, namely for the 'levelling up' of labour rights across Europe.
During discussion at our branch meeting the proposed motion was amended (250 words again!) and then submitted to the LICC; it ended up as our motion at conference. Some of our points made it into the composite and our delegate Jane Golding made sure LI's input was noticed.
This issue will not go away and I think it is our job as LI to get involved in the newly democratic policy-making process in our party. As comrades abroad, many of us will have seen what has happened to Labour's sister parties - their levels of organisation, their membership levels, their election results - since they accepted the politics of austerity. Whatever comrades' opinions are on different issues, we can look at the experiences of socialist and social-democratic parties in the states where we live, as well as our experiences in everyday life, and bring this into the policy process. I'm not a big fan of quoting people, but Corbyn said somewhere that a lot of the policies he ran on - seen as terribly far-left wing in Britain - would be "boringly mainstream in Germany". I can't help but agree with him.
Jane Golding: As delegates at Conference, one of our jobs was to follow up on the contemporary motion put forward to Conference by Labour International and accepted by Conference. This we did on Day One of conference, when the Contemporary Motions Priorities Ballot took place, and later on in the evening of Day One, when the compositing meetings on the first set of subjects for contemporary motions took place.
Contemporary Motions Priorities Ballot: Day One of Conference
The results of the contemporary motions priorities ballot were announced, as well as the arrangements for compositing meetings. Eight subjects for contemporary motions were chosen: austerity and public services, housing, NHS, employment rights, license fee, refugee crisis, Europe, mental health. This included the contemporary motion put forward by LI on the Trade Union Bill. Since there were a number of motions on the same subject, a composite motion needed to be agreed at a compositing meeting on the subject later that evening.
LI’s Contemporary Motion on Employment Rights: Compositing Meeting
LI’s delegates attended the compositing meeting. Already, our presence was noted during the roll call at the beginning of the meeting as not being one of the usual suspects. The main issues of our proposed motion had been included in a draft composite prepared by a representative of Unite: however, our important point concerning working towards the levelling up of workers’ rights across the EU had been omitted. We successfully argued that it should be included – there was in fact unanimous support for this – and contributed other smaller points to the wider discussion. Once this was concluded, the other delegates in the group showed great interest in where we were from, what LI does, etc. – in short, an excellent profile-raising exercise for LI, adding EU/international value on a domestic issue. This would be well-worth repeating at future Conferences.