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14 November 2018

Victory for democracy at CWU 'redesign' conference

Socialist Party members in the Communication Workers' Union (CWU)

The 'redesign' conference of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) on 3-4 November held vibrant debates on invigorating the union's impact on the new world of work and the gig economy.

A major proposal by the union's national executive committee was to move both the general and industrial conferences from yearly to every two years.

The executive promised that, where needed, 'policy forums' could be called if major issues arose.

Conference delegates opposed this. They understand the need for fundamental democracy, where the members' voice is heard, and the leadership can be monitored and evaluated by reps annually.

The right to call policy forums already exists. The move to biennial conferences could actually lead to more expense for the union from these. Democracy ruled, and annual conferences were maintained.

Plans to take 50% of all branch funds also fell. But changes will continue to ensure the union has extra funding at the top to invest in organising and recruitment.

One area of concern was the proposed sale of Alvescot Lodge, a residential training centre in Oxfordshire owned by the union.

The CWU has said that during the union's redesign there will be no compulsory redundancies.

However, staff at Alvescot, organised by general union GMB, rightly protested outside the conference. It is quite clear there would be no job options for many of them in that area.

The motion calling for no sale was lost. But another calling for a proper financial review of the sale, plus costs of booking other facilities, was carried.

Hopefully the national executive committee will recognise it makes sense to develop Alvescot and maybe offer it out to the wider trade union movement.

The equality section was very lively. Women activists argued for retaining regional women's committees, while the executive proposed blending all the various committees such as women's, LGBT and black, Asian and minority ethnic into one equality committee.

The executive's position was carried. But at least if it doesn't assist the equality work, branches will have the opportunity annually, not just every two years, to argue for change.

The CWU needs to develop its organising and recruitment programme to build a strong membership in unorganised workplaces such as Amazon, courier companies and call centres - which the union has real experience in.

This would reinvigorate the union, increase its membership, and help tackle the super-exploitation of these workers.