Unite the Union backs PR

Adam Herriott explains the campaign inside the union

Unite for PR is part of the Labour for a New Democracy campaign to get the Labour Party to back electoral reform/PR for Westminster elections. The group formed in mid-2021 in the lead-up to the party’s 2021 Conference to raise the profile of Proportional Representation by engaging pro-PR activists, opening conversations at branch level, and reinforcing the link between more proportional voting systems and a better deal for working people. Pre-Conference, Unite’s policy was supportive of first-past-the-post, so Unite delegates voted against the PR motion. There was 80% support from CLPs, but some of the larger unions voted against the motion or abstained and it was defeated.

The Unite Policy Conference followed in October 2021, and due to lots of hard work by supportive Unite members and new general secretary Sharon Graham’s support of PR, Unite passed a motion opposing first-past-the-post, and instead is now “supporting moves to explore, select and introduce a new voting system for the UK”. Sharon Graham said: “Today, Unite Policy Conference voted to support Proportional Representation in Westminster elections for the first time in our history. Our political class has failed working people and our system is broken. It is time to change our democracy.”

I believe electoral reform and the introduction of PR would result in less Tory governments and more progressive governments that would run the country in the interests of workers and ordinary people. This would help reduce inequality and poverty, tackle climate change, improve employment opportunities and housing availability, reduce corruption and reverse the 40-year attack on worker and trade union rights. We would then be able to reverse the 40-year privatisation of the NHS, so the NHS is publicly funded, publicly managed and provided, with democratic accountability to local people. I also think it would make constitutional reform possible: House of Lords reform to a fully elected chamber, votes at 16, and finally create a British constitution.

Since the conference season, Unite for PR has been meeting every couple of months. We have been encouraging PR-supporting Unite members to get active in their Unite branches, join their local Area Activist Committees, and generally become more active within Unite. We are also sending out speakers to Unite branches. I am cautiously hopeful that even more trade unions will support a PR motion at Labour’s 2022 Conference. 

Extract from Unite Policy Conference resolution, October 2021

Conference believes we need a Labour government to reshape society in the interests of workers and our communities. But it is imperative to realise that the current voting system offers no protection against later Conservative governments tearing up these hard fought gains as they have in the past.

Conference therefore resolves:

  • to adopt a policy of opposing First Past the Post and instead supporting moves to explore, select and introduce a new voting system for the UK
  • to hold regional educational events to give members information about how different electoral systems can enable or hinder the left of politics, and how they impact on the kind of policies and outcomes a society ends up with, and to promote debate and discussion amongst members
  • to ask the Executive Council to consider reports back from these events which include feedback from members
  • to call for the Labour Party to support moves to explore, select and introduce a new voting system, to promote discussion and education amongst its membership, and to commit to including the voting system for general elections in the remit of its planned constitutional convention.

    1. So those who never really wanted a Labour Government elected on a programme decided by its own members gets noisier and those trade unions whose leaders repeatedly threaten to disaffiliate from Labour seek alternative means of getting their own way.
      The most likely outcome of a change to PR would be more coalition governments whose eventual programmes will be decided behind closed doors. It’s a struggle to get any existing democratic processes to work because those “big players” get what they want out of Labour COnference – generally nothing new, just nothing that might embarrass or annoy them. We need effective policy-making systems prepared to provide more than cheap slogans and platitudes. That’s all without facing the absurdity that Labour must first win a general election under first past the post rules. The only beneficiaries of PR would be the LibDems and Greens, with the latter being probably the easier target for subsequent take-over by those seeking to displace Labour.

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