THE CONFERENCE of the CWU post and telecom workers' union began on Sunday-but bureaucratic manoeuvres immediately forced off the agenda the issue which many activists regard as crucial. The question of the union's relation with Labour and the possible democratisation of the political fund were due to be discussed on the first day.
It was not debated because a very lengthy motion dealing with a vast range of subjects was said to have closed the debate even before it began. Only one speech breached the procedural barricades put up to prevent any real discussion about the political fund.
Derek Durkin from Scotland No 2 branch told the conference, 'We should be able to give money to other parties that are in line with CWU policy, as well as the Labour Party. 'Our branch has democratically voted to affiliate to the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). We took that decision because of the disgraceful expulsion of the RMT union and because of the way New Labour has acted. When I'm talking about the SSP I'm talking about a party that is for the full public ownership of the communication industries, a party that supports a minimum wage set at two-thirds of male median earnings, a party that is for the repeal of all anti-union laws, a party that is for the rights of the Palestinian people, a party that was at the forefront of the campaign against the war in Iraq...'
At this point he was interrupted by the conference chair and accused of making propaganda for a political party! This extraordinary intervention-during a motion which included a clause saying branches could only support Labour-caused great anger.
Derek continued, 'It's quite clear that there is no possibility of having a proper debate on this issue here. There is an agreement between the top table and the standing orders committee to make sure it doesn't happen. Our members will demand the right to debate and they will refuse to have taken away the right to affiliate to the SSP. This issue won't go away. During a postal strike in Edinburgh three MSPs from the SSP came to our picket line. When did you last see a Labour MP on our picket lines?'
The conference was continuing as Socialist Worker went to press. Other motions addressing the union's links with Labour were on the agenda-though it was not at all clear they would be debated.
In the remaining days of the conference many delegates were determined to try to get a proper discussion on this and other key questions. In particular the postal members of the union have been through a year that saw mass unofficial strikes in the autumn, big job cuts and the introduction of a single delivery system that is still causing great resentment.