The new leadership has been around for several months now and is continuing in its attempts looking for a new approach to politics. This has been made more complex in that with a huge increase in membership, not only has the National Party had to look at its own organisation, but the way in which local branches function have been put under the microscope. For example, how do we use the new technologies that are available? How are branch meetings organised? How do we involve more directly the local community? How do we campaign? How do we involve young members?
Here, as a Branch, we have made some inroads, but trying to put change in place, especially with an ever increasing membership base will always be a difficult task, but it is something that must be carried through. But progress is being made in that not only does the Branch now have all the officer posts filled, but members are now increasingly engaged in this debate. For example we have now identified the three issues that branch members feel are the ones we need to campaign on locally. Those being, Affordable Housing, Youth Services and Public Transport. Here, in order to pursue these three issues, we are looking to set up three groups of interested members to not only make recommendations to the Branch as to how we pursue these policies, but also produce pamphlets that can be used in getting our ideas into the public arena. In this way, it is hoped that not only will the Branch become more directly involved with the local community, but also begin the process of developing a branch manifesto that we can put to good effect at forthcoming local elections.
There is also the continuing debate as to how branch meetings are organised. The format has been subjected to some minor changes, but the debate continues. From my position as Chair, a number of issues have to be taken into consideration. Firstly, branch meetings as per the rule book are business meetings, and there are certain matters that must be open for discussion. There is also a time element to be taken into consideration and as to how we fit in all the business required. For example, it was past practice to have an invited guest speaker at the end of a branch meeting However, given time restraints, it was felt by a number of members that not enough time was given to question the speaker. To this end we now have the guest speaker at the beginning of a meeting, and that aspect seems to have worked to everyone’s satisfaction.
However, this is a matter still under debate, and in my opinion will require us to look very carefully as to the role of a branch meeting, and how policies flow from it. In this respect, the campaign groups could be a crucial element of any new approach to branch structure reorganisation. They would meet before branch meetings, and it would be for those groups to put forward motions for debate and present their ideas for the content of pamphlets to be distributed locally. In this way not only would we have a process in which policies came from the ‘bottom up’, but would also allow the Branch to formulate a branch manifesto for forthcoming elections. In this way, it would allow for branch meetings to be open to change.
We must also look for change in terms of bringing more young people into the decision making process. They have in many respects a completely new approach to life, and their views must increasingly be taken in to account. We are lucky that we have a Youth Officer, but as to be expected, they inevitably in my experience, are soon off to university, and we must try to ensure we have the numbers of young people available to fill the post. We also have a Woman’s Officer, and I have invited a member of BRIDFEM to address the Branch at a future meeting. At present, women trade unionists constitute 52% of trade union membership, but still have to struggle to be paid the going rate for a job. They also work in the care industry; note I say Industry, which are among the lowest paid jobs in this country. So we must look in our branch manifesto for policies that reflect the plight of not only women working in ‘care’ industry, but to those thousands of single and widowed women surviving on little or no pension.
Overall, these are exciting times, and there are many challenges we face in terms of the reorganisation of the Branch and National Party. I am aware of these issues, as when a member of the CWU Union Executive I was given the role of reorganising and merging trade union branches. This was no easy matter, as individual branch traditions and branch policies and political leanings varied, as one would expect. The same difficulties now also face not only the Branch, but the Party in general. However, if we are to bring about change that allows for a difference as to how we make policy, and to how we organise as a Branch, it will take time, and would simply ask for patience as we move forward.