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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

For a democratic Labour Party

LABOUR MOVEMENT elections, like those of the bourgeois parliament Labour’s leaders have consistently upheld, were historically designed so that the smallest number of people could manipulate the largest number of votes. The old block-vote system was based on the principle that those who paid the most in membership affiliation fees got the most votes. Whilst this did put enormous power into the hands of faction chiefs, it did allow the activist rank-and-file a say in mandating their representatives. But even this was too much for Labour’s MPs, who simply elected their leader from amongst themselves in much the same way as the Conservatives and Liberals in the “mother of all parliaments”. Although the unions carried considerable sway at the annual Labour Party conference, this forum was in practice reduced to an advisory committee and their collective decisions could be, and indeed were, often ignored by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).

The unions didn’t get back into the leadership race until 1981, when an electoral college was established to broaden the electoral base. The tripartite college gave votes to all of the major stakeholders in the party, including MPs, affiliated trade unions and constituency parties, and this system continued until the introduction of the one-member, one-vote (OMOV) voting system in 2014 by the Blairites, who wanted to cut the unions out of the decision-making process altogether.

So it’s amusing to see those who slagged off the collegiate system now clamouring for its return in order to ensure that another Corbyn doesn’t return to plague them again. Whether Starmer & Co get it through Conference next week remains to be seen. But with the careerists swarming round Starmer and the Corbynistas ducking for cover, resistance is likely to be confined to protests outside the Brighton Centre and impotent rallies for those who’ve already been purged.

Starmer says this move, which is part of a large tranche of rule-changes designed to strengthen the grip of the bureaucracy over the Party, is returning some power back to the unions. In a sense that’s true. But it’s equally true that none of the major unions were calling for it and few, if any, were consulted about the proposals in the first place.

The New Communist Party opposed OMOV from the start precisely because it cut the unions out of Labour’s democratic process. But simply returning to the old collegiate system that gives Labour MPs the same clout as the massed ranks of organised labour is not enough.

Communists must campaign, through their unions, for a democratic Labour Party that reflects the wishes of all its affiliates and not the whims of the class-collaborators in parliament. That was the intention of the old Labour Representation Committee (LRC), founded in 1900 as an alliance of socialist organisations and trade unions to increase representation for labour interests in parliament.

We must campaign for a democratic Labour Party controlled by its affiliates. A Labour Party whose policies reflected those of a democratic union movement would become a powerful instrument for progressive reforms that would strengthen organised labour and benefit the working class.

The fight for a democratic Labour Party is linked to the fight for a democratic trade union movement. In the unions, we must struggle to elect genuine working-class leaderships, who are prepared to represent and fight for the membership against the employers and against the right-wing within the movement and to campaign for the removal of all anti‑trade union legislation.

At the same time we must build the revolutionary party and campaign for revolutionary change. Social democracy remains social democracy whatever trend is dominant within it and, as we know, it has never led to socialism.