The weekend of the 23/24 February 2019 will mark an important turning point in the history of Labour women when a two-day Labour Women’s Conference will meet in Telford. Women delegates from Constituency Labour Parties, the socialist societies and the Trades Unions will debate policies, agree on motions to be prioritised for debate at the Party’s Annual Conference in September and elect a new Conference Arrangements Committee.
Jennie Formby, only the second woman General Secretary of the Labour Party will speak, and Jeremy Corbyn will address the Conference on Saturday – a further signal that the side-lining of Labour women is finally over.
It has been a long time coming. More than twenty-five years ago an Annual Women’s Conference was part and parcel of a vibrant Labour women’s organisation which included local Women Sections and Councils with the right to elect delegates to Regional Women’s Conferences in England and Women’s Conferences in Scotland and Wales. These conferences were attended by Trade Union women, providing the potential for Labour women to unite, inform and promote key policies and indeed, at times to question the direction of travel of the Party nationally and regionally.
It was precisely because Labour women had an organisation which allowed them to challenge as well as campaign that New Labour saw the Labour women’s organisation as a threat. By the mid 1990s amendments to the Party’s rule book resulted in the abolition of an annual policy-making Women’s Conference and the demise of the rest of the Women’s organisation.
The 2019 Annual Women’s Conference is therefore a cause for celebration. However, it would not have happened without the commitment of Labour’s leadership to Party renewal and representations from Labour women who remember what has been lost and also from new generations of Labour women who recognise the need for a powerful Labour Women’s organisation.
Indeed, in Scotland, rule changes to establish a policy making Scottish Labour Women’s Conference, were unanimously adopted by the 2018 Scottish Labour conference, following pledges for change from Richard Leonard during his leadership campaign in 2017. In November 2018 a successful Scottish Labour Women’s Conference saw the election of a Scottish Labour Women’s Committee, with membership drawn from the trade unions, CLPs, and SEC. That Women’s Conference also directly elected two members to two new reserved seats on the SEC; prioritised four motions to go forward to Scottish Party Conference in March; and elected six members onto the Scottish Policy Forum.
The Labour Women’s Action Committee (LWAC) and the Campaign for Labour Democracy (CLPD) have consistently campaigned for the rights of Labour women to be restored as well as for policies which reflect the interests of women. How we build on this 2019 Annual Women’s Conference in Telford will be crucial.
The Party’s Democracy Review and the decisions outstanding from the 2018 Annual Conference make clear that there is still much to decide on how the Labour Women’s organisation will operate in future. For example, decisions have to be made about the rights of Labour women to elect their own national and, potentially, regional committees.
In addition, there are outstanding questions about whether the Labour Women’s Conference will be able to amend its own rules and consider emergency resolutions. All of this and more will determine the extent to which a revitalised Labour Women’s organisation will be able to exercise a powerful voice in policy-making in the future.
This is why LWAC / CLPD are once again holding a fringe meeting on the Friday evening prior to Women’s Conference (and before compositing which starts at 7.30pm). All women delegates and visitors are warmly invited to come along, not only to hear from our speakers but also to meet each other. If you have not been to a conference before, want to find out how it works and to hear about and discuss the key issues for Labour women going forward, this is the fringe for you.
Friday 22 February 2019 6.00pm- 7.30pm
Ramada Hotel Telford
Building a campaigning Labour Women’s organisation
Where next for Labour Women
Speakers: Rt Hon Diane Abbott MP, Ann Henderson (NEC and Chair of NEC Equalities Committee), Diana Holland (Assistant General Secretary Unite) with reports from Jean Crocker / Teresa Clark (Women’s Conference Arrangements Committee), Pam Tatlow (Chair and LWAC)
Pam Tatlow (Chair LWAC) and Ann Henderson (Chair NEC Equalities Committee)