NATIONAL WOMEN’S CONFERENCE – February 2019
Katie McMurray and Elaine Bewley report from Telford…
Conference was held over two days, bringing together 397 CLPs, 18 affiliated unions, 700 delegates and a total of 150 motion submissions. The main focus of conference was policy debate, with speakers including Jeremy Corbyn and Dawn Butler taking up less than an hour of conference time. In total five hours were devoted to motions.
Out of the many motions put forward to conference by our constituency Labour parties and our affiliated trade unions eight were selected, with multiple proposers coming together to composite (amalgamate) their motions in a meaningful and inclusive way.
Each policy debate was informative and spoken to with passion and varying degrees of eloquence by numerous delegates from the floor and a vote was taken immediately after every motion. Our card votes were not needed because each motion was passed unanimously. Once all motions had been debated, each delegation was able to cast one vote for one motion only to go forward to main conference and likewise affiliates could vote for one motion only. As Pavilion CLP we cast our vote for Early years, education and childcare. The two winning motions go forward to be debated at national conference and are in bold. These motions were:
|Motion||CLP Votes||Affiliate Votes|
|Early Years Education and Childcare||30,256||0|
|Rights for Migrant Women||65,567||17,278|
|Universal Credit and Employment Support||71,668||1,112,357|
|Violence Against Women and Girls||27,910||400,000|
|Women in the Workforce||5,489||25,500|
Pavilion CLP Motion
TRANS RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS
Women’s forum voted to submit a motion on trans rights to the women’s conference which was taken from the motion previously passed at GC and taken to South East Regional Conference. Our motion was not included in the priorities ballot papers and we were not notified why. On finding that it wasn’t included we contacted Women’s Conference Arrangements Committee (WCAC) to ask why and were told that it didn’t conform to the rules and they judged it as pertaining to internal rule changes rather than policy. Our secretary forcefully argued against this but unfortunately, we were unable to change their minds and with the exceptionally short time frame there was little scope for having our motion included in a way that would have had an impact in any case.
In response your delegates took 1000 leaflets with us to conference and distributed them to delegates as they arrived on Saturday, asking them to help us re-instate our motion. Many thanks to our Treasurer Claire for making these and printing them at short notice. We also placed a leaflet on as many delegates chairs as we could and were supported by the LGBT+ stall, who also gave out our leaflet. We were pleased to receive a lot of support from other delegates.
Whilst the business of agreeing the WCAC report which would have agreed the agenda and the composite motions was not conducted in a way that allowed discussion or a formal vote on it, we managed to shout out our call to “reference back” on the report and request that our motion was reinstated. Katie was invited to speak for two minutes and was able to read out our statement and there was lots of support in the room. There was subsequently several more calls to reference back from other delegates who had had their motions excluded. It was interesting that these came with suggestions to ensure that that there was an appeals process, that the rules for compositing were made fairer and that more time was given to resolve disputes. All questioning the WCAC report were invited to meet with the WCAC representatives and discuss their issues.
Teresa Clark (CLP WCAC representative) organised an impromptu meeting of likeminded people to discuss how we can continue to champion this cause and has set up an email group to that effect.
Break out spaces
Two hours were given to break out sessions with one hour for each topic as follows:
Community organising (2 sessions)
Women’s officer meet up (2 sessions)
Organising for equality – Unions winning for women
Is equality law fit for purpose?
Labour Women’s Network
Gender and transport
Women and social security
Elaine managed to get into Community Organising, which was somewhat helpful, but conference over-ran on policy debate so it was far too short to accomplish much. She did get a useful contact so she will pursue that. Elaine also managed to make a copy of the booklet form the Women’s Officer Meet up despite this being too full for either delegate to get a place on this. Katie went to the Gender and Transport meeting which was interesting but just as rushed. There was a general feeling that the break outs were in rooms too small for purpose and that they didn’t accomplish much. Delegates we spoke to felt that more policy discussion would have been more useful.
Labour Women Leading had a fringe meeting on Saturday evening, called Building a Socialist Women’s Organisation for Labour. This was so popular, that we were sat with many on the floor and others were standing and crowding the doorways. Speakers included Dawn Butler Shadow Secretary of State for Equalities, Teresa Clark and Jean Crocker (WCAC), Cecile Wright (CLPD), Karen Robinson (CND) and Lauren Townsend (UNITE activist at TGI Friday).
The speakers were inspirational.
Teresa affirmed that we now have a conference about us and with limited input from the Shadow Cabinet, but that the CLPs were nowhere. Next year there has to be space to share our CLP expertise and change the absurd timetabling. LWL is the only organisation on the left training women for power.
Jean wanted conference to be able to put forward rule changes as well as motions. National Women’s Committee should have oversight of conference, to put power back with the grassroots.
Cecile countered the notion of “leaning in” as a way for women to advance, seeing it as elitist, emphasising individualism and divorced from the lived experience of 99% of women. She recommends reading “Notes for a Feminist Manifesto” one the New Left Review, inspired by the Spanish women strike La huelga feminista of 2018. It is a road map for our approach for the 99%, how to enthuse women to mobilise and encompass intersectionality and link with other struggles. Not competition but solidarity.
Karen spoke passionately about her experience of Greenham Common and the CND movement. Her historic connection with Jeremy Corbyn during these struggles propelled her to re-join the party when he became elected leader.
Lauren was feisty and funny in recounting her the dispute with TGI Friday over a 40% cut in their tips – this going to the predominantly male kitchen staff, as the franchise attempted to prop up male wages out of the pockets of the mostly female waiting staff. With the help of UNITE she enrolled staff and successfully fought TGI Friday.
Dawn didn’t give a speech but concentrated on a Q & A from the floor.
In response to Shamima Begum’s plight, she said the UK under the Geneva Convention cannot make someone stateless. The UK also has a rule of law and she will have to account for her actions. However, we should not lose our humanity in this care towards a British citizen.
Problems & highlights
We had difficulty making sense of registration and found unhelpful the instruction received from stewards on registration and tickets for break out spaces. As a result we didn’t manage to get tickets for the sessions for Women’s Officer Meet Up or Community Organising. The ones we did get to were too short and didn’t equip us with anything to take back to our CLPs.
Every motion that was debated needs to be Labour Party policy and so it was frustrating that only two will go forward to National Conference. However, we were assured by Dawn Butler that none of the energy or ideas put into the motions would be wasted; that all motions, both those submitted and debated, will be going forward to the national policy forum committee.
There was some confusion about voting for the motions but staff were on hand to guide us through the process.
Being chosen to speak in debates is still a lottery and a flawed system. More thought needs to go into how delegates are selected. Conference for instance had to demand, loudly, of the chair that someone from Northern Ireland had to be able to speak to the Abortion Rights debate. Elaine tried to speak to the Migrant Women and Social Care debate but was unable to get the attention of the chair.
The facilities for hearing impaired are still dysfunctional. Conference, not the venue, supplied the hearing loop but no one had tested it. Elaine was sat in a dead zone and spent a lot of conference standing in a sweet spot in the wheelchair area. There were not sufficient disabled facilitator staff to address this with and WCAC office was closed when I wanted to report this issue. To be fair, staff did try to help, but the technological fix was flawed.
None of the break out spaces had loops or roving mikes. In one of the break out rooms there was no ramp for one of the speakers who was a wheelchair user to get on the platform so the speakers all had to sit at floor level which wasn’t ideal. A point of order was brought because delegates were standing up and dancing to get chosen to speak which disadvantaged those who are unable to stand or wave. Accessibility stewards were there to help get disabled delegates heard but this didn’t seem sufficient. A more organised approach to picking speakers that is fair and equal to disabled people or those sitting further to the back is needed.
The Unions still very much ruled the roost and there wasn’t much space for CLPs to make their presence felt.
Results of election to Women’s Conference Arrangement Committee (WCAC)
WCAC – Affiliate Section
Total Votes Cast: 6,107,138
Therefore Anne Dean, Linda Hobson and Philippa Marsden were elected.
WCAC – CLP Section
|APPLETON, Valerie Ruth||32,283||3.29|
|WOOLLEY, Iram S||29,803||3.04|
Total Votes Cast: 981,124
Therefore Gemma Bolton, Teresa Clark and Jean Crocker were elected.
Elaine came back from Women’s Conference 2017 feeling bemused. What was that all about? She felt that she should be uplifted, but wasn’t. At that conference the delegates heard mostly inspiring speeches all day long, but she felt that she didn’t know what it was all for. There was no meaningful discussion, because we had no rights to forward policy to national conference.
At this conference, this has changed. We did debate, and we did disagree. It doesn’t go far enough yet, because all the motions discussed are socialist, common sense and humane at the core and should ALL become Labour Party policy. My hope is that many of these motions will be picked up by CLPs in any case and sent forward to National Conference.
Because of the way that motions are composited and the way union votes are cast it would have been difficult for controversial motions like ours on trans rights or the ASLEF motion on rights of sex workers to be heard. These issues were raised in the main discussion and in the fringe meeting we attended so there is hope that our CLP delegates for WCAC will have this on their agenda.
As Teresa Clark said, we do need more space for CLPS. Similar to our branches forum, there should be opportunity for CLP and branch officers to come together for exchange and training sessions. Above all, as activists and local party office holders, we need more training.
The papers we received for the motions were highly informative and each could form the basis for debate at CLP and branch women’s groups.
It felt inspirational and energising to be around so many intelligent passionate activists and we both made lots of good connections. The rule of ensuring that the second delegate was someone who was BAME, young labour or had a disability meant that the room was wonderfully diverse and this felt like a definite success. There is still a lot to do to make this conference everything it should be, but it was a fabulous start and we were both really pleased to be there.
Thank you for sending us as your delegates!
Katie McMurray, CLP Women’s Officer
Pavilion Labour delegates to National Women’s Conference 2019