How Miliband has already transformed Labour

Refounding Labour was the biggest shake up of the rulebook since the party was formed.

A recent Guardian article claimed "Two years on, Refounding Labour to Win is largely forgotten. Most Labour MPs cannot recall what it proposed, nor can officials." This could not be further from the truth. 

When Ed Miliband first appointed Peter Hain to head up that programme of work, the challenge was clear. Previous leaders had launched schemes designed to shake things up that had been quickly forgotten. It was going to take a huge amount of effort on the part of Ed, Peter and all of us on the NEC if real change was going to happen. But it did. Refounding Labour ended up being the biggest engagement we’d ever had with our members and the biggest shake up of the rulebook since the party was formed.

The change it delivered, however, went further than any amendments to our rule book, important though they were. Over the past two years our party has:

· Made it easier for Labour supporters to get involved in our work by enshrining the rights of supporters in our rules and establishing a registered supporters' network to put them in touch with established local activists.

· Made it easier to be a part of our party by reviewing our membership rates, encouraging those who have more to contribute more to our party, lowering our minimum joining age to 14 and introducing a new youth rate which has seen more young people joining our party.

· Made it easier to be active in our party by reviewing the funding arrangements of local Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) so that the biggest contribute more, creating a Campaign Diversity & Democracy fund which is currently ploughing money into local CLPs and supporting the work of new trainee organisers in the field, having Arnie Graf train our key activists in community organising  techniques, enhancing our technology platform and use of new and social media.

· Given members and supporters a bigger say in our policy making process - fundamentally reviewing our National Policy Forum, opening up those structures and processes so they are more accountable and transparent through the introduction of Your Britain, which is enabling both members and supporters to contribute their views on our policy proposals, giving conference new rights in setting our policy priorities.

· Encouraged and supported those from under-represented groups to become representatives of our party through our Future Candidates Programme.

I’ve visited 98 CLPs since November 2010 – more than any other volunteer – and I know that these changes are breathing new life into many of them and enthusing activists across the country.

So the further announcements Ed made last week are part of this process of reform and it’s a testament to his leadership that the National Executive Committee (NEC), which met yesterday, was absolutely united in its determination to approach this challenge constructively, engaging with Ray Collins in the work ahead.

Of course there are many issues that we will have to work through in the next few months to deliver this. We need to work out how to support out trade union partners in delivering individual affiliation and how this can be used to strengthen and renew our relationship.  We will have to put into place the very welcome spending cap for candidates seeking selection. 

And we need to work out what all of this means for Labour members. We must be clear about their future role. Ed Miliband has always been vocal about the value of our membership, the experiences and commitment they bring and we will continue to rely on them as one of our biggest resources and closest links to our communities. So I hope that if selections are opened up to non-members in the form of primaries, we can discuss the possibility of enhancing our members’ voice within the electoral structures of our party, perhaps even increasing the number of places we have on key decision-making structures like the NEC (where CLP representatives currently have just six of the 33 seats).

But no one can say that Ed Miliband is not ambitious, that he’s not trying to deliver a better type of politics for the people of this country.  As one of my NEC colleagues remarked: "this is bigger than Clause 4 and OMOV put together".

While we get on with this work, behind the scenes, the press could play its part in delivering a better politics by providing genuine scrutiny of this government’s actions, which are crippling the poorest in our society.

Devastating changes are going to be made to people’s rights at work on the 29th of this month. Workers who have been unfairly dismissed or discriminated against by their employer, and who seek redress at tribunal, will now be charged for taking that claim to hearing and have no assurance that if their claim is settled they will have their money repaid to them. Employers will also  be able to make 'offers' to employees to leave their organisations - without the need for that employer to go through normal dismissal, grievance or performance procedures – through conversations that will later be inadmissible in any future tribunal proceedings. This is tantamount to giving employers carte blanche to hold 'car-park conversations' with anyone they don’t like, pressing them to give up their jobs before they are pushed or dismissed, with the employee having no means of referring to that conversation, or how threatened they felt by it, in any future case.

While 'bad practice' in the operation of these conversations is supposed to be prohibited, it will, in many instances, be almost impossible for employees to prove that it has taken place.  All of those changes are being introduced after the government has already made it harder for workers to seek redress by increasing the qualification period before they can submit an employment tribunal claim and has cut legal aid for employment issues.

That’s just one example of the scandal of this administration and why we will be doing everything we can to build a Labour Party fit for the 21st century, with the policies and organisation it needs to win in 2015 and form a One Nation government led by Ed Miliband.

Johanna Baxter is a CLP representative on Labour's NEC and Chair of the Southwark Labour Campaign Forum

Ed Miliband delivers his speech on reforming the Labour-trade union link at The St Bride Foundation in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Johanna Baxter is a CLP representative on Labour's NEC and Chair of the Southwark Labour Campaign Forum

Getty Images.
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Trade unions must change or face permanent decline

Union membership will fall below one in five employees by 2030 unless current trends are reversed. 

The future should be full of potential for trade unions. Four in five people in Great Britain think that trade unions are “essential” to protect workers’ interests. Public concerns about low pay have soared to record levels over recent years. And, after almost disappearing from view, there is now a resurgent debate about the quality and dignity of work in today’s Britain.

Yet, as things stand, none of these currents are likely to reverse long-term decline. Membership has fallen by almost half since the late 1970s and at the same time the number of people in work has risen by a quarter. Unions are heavily skewed towards the public sector, older workers and middle-to-high earners. Overall, membership is now just under 25 per cent of all employees, however in the private sector it falls to 14 per cent nationally and 10 per cent in London. Less than 1 in 10 of the lowest paid are members. Across large swathes of our economy unions are near invisible.

The reasons are complex and deep-rooted — sweeping industrial change, anti-union legislation, shifts in social attitudes and the rise of precarious work to name a few — but the upshot is plain to see. Looking at the past 15 years, membership has fallen from 30 per cent in 2000 to 25 per cent in 2015. As the TUC have said, we are now into a 2nd generation of “never members”, millions of young people are entering the jobs market without even a passing thought about joining a union. Above all, demographics are taking their toll: baby boomers are retiring; millennials aren’t signing up.

This is a structural problem for the union movement because if fewer young workers join then it’s a rock-solid bet that fewer of their peers will sign-up in later life — setting in train a further wave of decline in membership figures in the decades ahead. As older workers, who came of age in the 1970s when trade unions were at their most dominant, retire and are replaced with fewer newcomers, union membership will fall. The question is: by how much?

The chart below sets out our analysis of trends in membership over the 20 years for which detailed membership data is available (the thick lines) and a fifteen year projection period (the dotted lines). The filled-in dots show where membership is today and the white-filled dots show our projection for 2030. Those born in the 1950s were the last cohort to see similar membership rates to their predecessors.

 

Our projections (the white-filled dots) are based on the assumption that changes in membership in the coming years simply track the path that previous cohorts took at the same age. For example, the cohort born in the late 1980s saw a 50 per cent increase in union membership as they moved from their early to late twenties. We have assumed that the same percentage increase in membership will occur over the coming decade among those born in the late 1990s.

This may turn out to be a highly optimistic assumption. Further fragmentation in the nature of work or prolonged austerity, for example, could curtail the familiar big rise in membership rates as people pass through their twenties. Against this, it could be argued that a greater proportion of young people spending longer in education might simply be delaying the age at which union membership rises, resulting in sharper growth among those in their late twenties in the future. However, to date this simply hasn’t happened. Membership rates for those in their late twenties have fallen steadily: they stand at 19 per cent among today’s 26–30 year olds compared to 23 per cent a decade ago, and 29 per cent two decades ago.

All told our overall projection is that just under 20 per cent of employees will be in a union by 2030. Think of this as a rough indication of where the union movement will be in 15 years’ time if history repeats itself. To be clear, this doesn’t signify union membership suddenly going over a cliff; it just points to steady, continual decline. If accurate, it would mean that by 2030 the share of trade unionists would have fallen by a third since the turn of the century.

Let’s hope that this outlook brings home the urgency of acting to address this generational challenge. It should spark far-reaching debate about what the next chapter of pro-worker organisation should look like. Some of this thinking is starting to happen inside our own union movement. But it needs to come from outside of the union world too: there is likely to be a need for a more diverse set of institutions experimenting with new ways of supporting those in exposed parts of the workforce. There’s no shortage of examples from the US — a country whose union movement faces an even more acute challenge than ours — of how to innovate on behalf of workers.

It’s not written in the stars that these gloomy projections will come to pass. They are there to be acted on. But if the voices of union conservatism prevail — and the offer to millennials is more of the same — no-one should be at all surprised about where this ends up.

This post originally appeared on Gavin Kelly's blog