TGWU motion may cause row over block vote

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A DAMAGING split over the block vote looked set to dominate Labour's annual conference this year after its biggest affiliate tabled a motion yesterday backing the traditional link between unions and party.

In the teeth of growing opposition from Labour politicians, the Transport and General Workers' Union put forward a proposition explicity defending the system.

In particular Bill Morris, general secretary of the TGWU, is keen to keep the union voting input into the selection of parliamentary candidates, which contradicts a proposition tabled by the right-wing Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, the third biggest affiliate.

Sources in the AEEU were yesterday sticking to their guns on selection, despite news that John Smith, Labour's probable next leader, wants the issue referred to an inquiry into union-party links which is due to report to next year's party conference.

A motion authorised yesterday by the TGWU's 'inner cabinet', the finance and general purposes committee, 'regrets ill informed and malignly intentioned criticisms of the trade uion-Labour Party link, including the block vote'. In the absence of a defence of the structure by senior Labour figures, 'it is not surprising that the general public often expresses unease on these issues'. It adds that trade unionism is the best guarantee of democracy at work.

The TGWU concedes, however, that its members who pay the political levy should be consulted on selection of the party leadership, in which unions hold 40 per cent of the vote, and on other party elections.

It is possible that the confrontation between the AEEU and the TGWU and its supporters over union-party links will be defused before the conference. Failing a deal before delegates convene in Blackpool in October, the TGWU's motion, which will enjoy the support of the GMB general union and other big unions, is likely to be endorsed amid much unseemly conflict.

Most labour movement figures agree that there should be a union input into Labour Party decision-making, but the means by which it is expressed is at the heart of the debate.

It is expected that the 90 per cent block vote of unions at policy making conferences will be reduced to 70 per cent this October. Mr Morris has indicated that he would be prepared to see the union's share declining towards the 50 per cent mooted by the GMB general union, the party's second largest affiliate.

However the TGWU, GMB and John Smith would prefer the whole issue of union party-links to be referred to a committee on the issue appointed by the party's national executive.

(Photograph omitted)