Labour faces damaging fight on union links

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Indy Politics
A HIGHLY damaging row is in prospect over the first comprehensive report on the links between the Labour Party and unions, to be presented to an internal committee today.

Although the confidential draft document effectively seeks to enshrine a new form of union input into the party, members of the special review group are split over whether such a system could be in place before the next election.

Some have told John Smith that Labour will have to rely on one member one vote (OMOV) for the selection of parliamentary candidates, while others believe a plan to enfranchise union members who pay the political levy can be working by next year.

The conflict will come to the boil at the Labour Party national executive, either on 27 January or a month later. Whatever happens, the debate will dominate union conferences this year.

Backers of an end to the union vote in candidate selections, as part of Labour's 'modernisation', suspect that once the party has moved to OMOV, even with a commitment to try to widen the franchise to levy-paying trade unionists, such a change is unlikely to take place. Supporters of union influence, however, point out that the paper provides for a situation in which some unions would participate immediately and others when they were able to identify and contact levy-payers by constituency.

The report, which draws attention to a 'crisis' over declining membership, insists that a final decision on internal democracy will have to be taken by the party's October conference.

Under employment legislation, union members will have to vote in 1994 on whether to retain political funds. The paper warns that a declining influence in the Labour Party might mean a heavy vote against a political levy. While the document reaffirms the relationship between the two wings of the labour movement, it calls for a reduction in union power.

On what is now the most controversial issue - the selection of MPs - it presents three alternatives: one member one vote; an 'extended franchise' in which trade unionists who pay the political levy could become 'registered supporters' and command up to one-third of the vote; or an electoral college made up of individual members and unions.

Supporters of OMOV have seized upon a paragraph in the two-part 80-page document which says that if the registered voters system is favoured, 'it may be necessary to opt for one of the other options in the coming round'. Some unions, it is argued, will have difficulty separating their political levy-paying members into constituencies.

On the leadership election, the paper calls on the party to decide between an electoral college divided between MPs, individual members and unions; or a vote shared by MPs and party members. A straight OMOV system is not countenanced. For the policy-making conference, the document envisages a reduction from a 70 per cent union input to 50 per cent.