In a speech which identifies with the 'Clintonisation' camp in the party, Bill Jordan, president of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, told the union's annual national committee meeting, in Llandudno, that Labour continued to have an 'image problem'.
Mr Jordan, head of the party's third-largest affiliate, registered some doubt that Labour would win a snap election. He said trade unionists were 'obsessed' with maintaining a constitutional relationship with Labour, but President Clinton had done a great deal for US unions in his three months in office without such links. 'In the 14 years of Conservative government we've seen nothing like it,' he said.
Mr Jordan said unions should not be seen to dictate policy or choose party leaders. Unions should maintain their strong identification with the party, and should remain proud of them, but on the basis of one member one vote, not the 'block vote'.
He was in constant touch with union leaders in the US and they were unable to understand the preoccupation of British trade unionists with maintaining their voting power in the party.
Mr Clinton had secured the voluntary backing of American unions without the constitutional 'handcuffs'.
Mr Jordan told delegates that Labour's clause four was written in the language of the 18th century and had become obsolete. 'If we want to get across to the people who will matter in the 21st century we must have the broadest possible message,' he said after his speech.
Labour's clause four says that the party's aim is to secure the equitable distribution of wealth 'on the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange'.
Seventy-five years after its establishment, the Labour Party was more than just a 'workers' party', it was an organisation which should represent all ordinary men and women, 'regardless of sectional interest'.
Mr Jordan suggested that a substitute clause should state the party's aim should be to secure 'the right to health care, education and employment, and to ensure that there is equality of opportunity and justice for every citizen'.
None of the industries privatised by the Government should be automatically taken back into state control, Mr Jordan said. Even the public utilities should not be re-nationalised unless it was proven that private interests had failed to make them more efficient.
In reference to the Timex dispute in Dundee, Mr Jordan called on management to negotiate and said the union would work to reinstate its members once the two-month-old dispute had ended.
Mr Jordan said that the 340 workers at the company had voted in a lawful ballot to strike and went back 'under protest', but were dismissed by management. 'Where else in the Western world could work people who have meticulously obeyed every letter of the law in defending their pay and conditions be sacked for exercising the right Parliament has given them?' he said.Reuse content