Rules and politicians at Scarborough conference

22 May 2007

On the second day of the 2007 ASLEF conference, delegates concentrated on proposals to change the union’s rule book. They voted to keep their annual conference and leave the arrangements for electing the general secretary unchanged. In addition it heard speeches from Ireland Minister Peter Hain and Labour MP John McDonnell.


The executive proposal to cease having annual conferences - and have an assembly of delegates once every two years instead – was soundly defeated. Both the President and the general secretary argued that the money saved justified such a move – but delegates insisted that anything that cut back democracy and limited accountability would be detrimental to the union.

‘This is where you get your future leaders, it’s where you feel the passion and the pride,’ declared Brother Howarth, a first time delegate from Bishop Stortford. It was also argued that because we are a small union we can afford to meet regularly, but opponents said that the membership was fragmented because of the number of employers - and that this made it more important than ever to have a regular and annual forum for discussion and debate.


West Brompton branch argued for a number of changes concerning the election of the general secretary. They wanted to exclude district officers from standing so that only people without experience of headquarters would be eligible. The delegate said that the objective was to ensure that the union’s senior representative would be guaranteed to come from ‘the grassroots’. He also wanted the existing rule removed which says that if the general secretary’s term of office took them to over age 60, they remain in office, with no further election, until age 65.

West Brompton branch insisted that the GS should be forced to stand again if the five-year term of office ended while the incumbent was between sixty and 65.

Conference said the proposed changes would exclude many of the people most qualified to do the job.


Peter gave a wide-ranging speech covering the challenges to the Labour Party and including a strategy for winning the next election. As well as covering climate change, discussing ‘not for profit’ rail franchises and insisting that unions were entitled to half Labour Party conference votes, he gave some interesting background to the Northern Ireland agreement which he had recently helped to broker.


John lamented the New Labour tendency to prevent, rather than encourage political debate. ‘Stopping democracy weakens the party,’ he said. ‘I find it incredible that New Labour can’t tolerate debate.’ He stressed the need to win back people who were natural supporters a decade ago. ‘In 1997 health workers marched with us. Now they are marching against us, opposing privatisation and cuts in services,’ he said.

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