Unions reconsider deal on democracy: Biggest affiliates remain opposed but others move towards Smith formula for party reforms

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The Independent Online
A SUMMER of political horsetrading between union 'barons' was in prospect yesterday over John Smith's proposals for Labour Party democracy.

The two biggest affiliated unions yesterday rejected the Smith formula for one member, one vote (Omov), but other important organisations are considering the proposals.

Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said a statement from the key committee on links between the party and unions had fallen 'well short' of their aspirations. Sources at the GMB general union, the second largest affiliate, also registered opposition.

The compromise endorsed by the review group on Wednesday and likely to be backed by the executive of the party on Monday is, however, aimed at separating the two big battalions of the movement - which command about 18 per cent of the vote at the policy-making conference - from the medium-sized unions.

Under Mr Smith's guidance the committee moved away from a simple Omov system for the election of the Labour leader to a structure in which unions, MPs and party members would share the decision equally.

The sensitive area now is the selection of parliamentary candidates. Mr Smith is insisting that only party members should vote, together with union members who pay the political levy and are prepared to pay a small extra fee to join a 'register' of party members among trade unionists.

Garfield Davies, leader of the shopworkers' union, Usdaw - the fifth biggest affiliate - said his executive would early next week reconsider the plans backed by the links committee. The Usdaw conference narrowly backed an anti-Omov stance and it would have taken a swing of only 0.6 per cent to change the decision. Mr Davies said his union might call a fresh conference to consider the matter, or hold a referendum.

The third most important affiliate is the newly formed Unison public service union, which will wield about 7 per cent of the block vote. The Unison delegation at the party conference, made up of representatives from the old Nupe and Cohse unions, are seeking to find common ground. One of the critical figures is Tom Sawyer, the union's deputy general secretary, who is attempting to move its 720,000 block vote behind Mr Smith.

Campaigning for the Christchurch by-election, Mr Smith said unions were entitled to make their own decisions at the party conference. But he predicted that the final decision would favour the reforms.

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