IN EVERY debate at last week's CWU conference there was anger about various aspects of New Labour policies. This wasn't just shown over the war on Iraq (see here). CWU delegates condemned New Labour for their treatment of the firefighters during their recent pay dispute.
In an emergency motion Gary Heather from Central London branch said, 'I am a member of the Labour Party in Islington, north London, and we gave full support to the FBU throughout their strike.
'It was utterly wrong for a Labour government to introduce legislation to do away with collective bargaining. It was an attack on fundamental union rights.' Delegates also expressed their anger at the rise in racism and the increased threat from the British National Party (BNP).
One of those was Stuart Caddy, a postal worker and the Labour leader of Burnley council. He said, 'We need to get the BNP out of the workforce. In some places the racists have confidence that other people support them and we have to tackle that. We have a lot of work to do getting rid of the fascists.'
Delegates spoke of their concern that several BNP members have wormed their way into CWU branches and that the law makes it hard to expel them. Nevertheless there was a strong desire to get them thrown out of the union.
The motion passed about the union's use of the political fund continued the policy of only giving money to the Labour Party and not other organisations, such as the Scottish Socialist Party and the Socialist Alliance. But the motion's backers certainly gave no endorsement to Blairism. The Manchester delegate who moved the motion said, 'The mood of the country is changing and the Labour government does not reflect our agenda. 'We need to fight our corner and we need more political education for our members.'
Seconding the motion, Pete Keenlyside said, 'This is not about trying to defend Blair or the New Labour project or many of the policies the government has pursued.'
He said the use of the fund was an argument among those who 'come to bury Tony Blair, not to praise him' about the best way forward. Other delegates disagreed. John Johnson from London wanted discussion of more far-reaching changes to the way the fund was used and consideration of opening it up so it could be given to other socialists.
He said, 'I have been a member of the Labour Party for over 25 years and was London Region political officer. I believe Labour should be the party of the working class and the trade union movement, but it isn't that at the present time.
'Despite the rhetoric of Tony Blair have we really made such great strides forward? Regretfully I say no.'
Another motion, which sought to follow the RMT rail union's policy of targeting money to MPs who back the union's core policies, was only narrowly defeated. There was frustration among a large section of delegates that the motion to democratise the fund was not heard because of the way the debate had been arranged.
The political fund motions showed general secretary Billy Hayes's determination to stick with Labour - and the damage it causes. Billy has been brilliant over the war. He deserves great credit for the stand he has taken over this and other issues.
But there is a gulf between his denunciation of Blair about international questions and his muted reaction over many domestic issues. In the political fund debate he was reduced to saying the government was partially listening to the union - even though in the post private companies are being allowed to snatch work away from postal workers and 28,000 job losses are planned.
He added that the union could not target its political fund based on the policies Labour MPs and councillors adopted because 'there might be cabinet responsibility' to vote for policies that the CWU opposed or as a councillor 'you might have to vote for PFI'.
Earlier in the conference he had refused to take action condemning former deputy general secretary Tony Young's attacks on the firefighters. Delegates had challenged the awarding of honorary membership to past officers of the union because Young was on the Bain review which savaged the firefighters.
Opposing the motion to award honorary membership, Derek Durkin from Scotland No 2 branch said, 'We stood shoulder to shoulder with the FBU, we went on their demos and stood on the picket lines. Now we throw that back in their faces by honouring Tony Young.'
Young was saved only by the intervention of Billy Hayes, who argued that it would be unfair to the good people on the list if the honorary memberships did not go through.
Many in the rank and file feel the union's leadership is not doing nearly enough to fight for better pay, oppose job losses and stop privatisation. This is causing unrest, evidenced by the recent 99 percent vote for action over London weighting in an unofficial ballot.
Discussions around these issues were set for later in the week in the separate businesses where the union organises.
Crucial debates were planned among postal workers - particularly over the issue of pay and in deliveries where the executive was proposing acceptance of a deal which will see 12,000 job losses.
Full report on the rest of conference and the postal section conferences next week. CWU delegates who want to put their views on the conference should e-mail [email protected]