Looking forward to Labour’s Women’s Conference – Rachel Garnham, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy

“Women’s Conference must build on the progressive policy platform agreed in 2021 where left policies covering a wide range of issues from public services to Palestine were overwhelmingly agreed.”

Rachel Garnham, Vice-Chair of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD), looks ahead to Labour’s Women’s Conference.

On March 19–20, women from CLPs, trade unions and socialist societies will meet – sadly, but necessarily, once again online – for Labour’s Annual Women’s Conference. We last met at the end of June 2021 so it has come around rather quickly but nevertheless is a great opportunity to discuss the key issues impacting women and to try to give some direction to the still relatively new National Women’s Committee.

The commitment to Annual Women’s Conferences to be held in the spring each year is very welcome and it will be great to engage with sisters all over the country, albeit virtually. Let’s hope the agenda prioritises hearing from grassroots women delegates and that this time there is a transparent process for selecting speakers.

At the Conference there will be important elections for the Women’s Conference Arrangements Committee who vet the motions, contribute to agenda-setting in discussion with the Women’s Committee, and chair compositing meetings. We need more representatives like the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy’s Jean Crocker who works tirelessly to support grassroots members to have their voices heard, to ensure valid motions are debated and that delegates are empowered within their compositing meeting to take ownership of the text. Jean is re-standing for election, this time alongside Broxbourne Councillor Selina Norgrove and Cities of London and Westminster CLP’s BAME Officer, and former Vice Chair of Labour Women Leading, Gillian Arrindell.

All are committed to building a democratic, inclusive policy-making annual Labour Party Women’s Conference in which grassroots members and trade unionists’ voices are heard. More information from the CLPD website. The deadline for nominations is 10 March.

Women’s Conference has the opportunity to debate and agree changes to its rules and structures for the first time since the National Labour Women’s Organisation was re-established as one of the outcomes of Jeremy Corbyn’s Democracy Review – any rule changes agreed by the Conference will go forward to Annual Conference for potential inclusion in the rulebook.

CLPD has published suggestions for CLPs or affiliates to submit that would improve the functioning of Labour’s Women’s structures. For example by ensuring access to email platforms for Women’s Branch secretaries so they can contact members directly, adding communication as an objective for the Labour Women’s Committee so as ordinary members we get to hear about their activities, decisions and plans, and ensuring the basis of delegations for the Annual Women’s Conference is in the hands of the Women’s Conference not the NEC. Which has once again ignored the rule that would prioritise the representation of young women at the Conference and failed to consider enabling larger CLPs to have increased representation – which actively works against representation as it is those bigger CLPs who are more likely to send Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic delegates for example.

Finally, but of no less importance, Women’s Conference must build on the progressive policy platform agreed in 2021 where left policies covering a wide range of issues from public services to Palestine were overwhelmingly agreed. Over the past year women’s position in society has continued to be pushed backwards – women remain amongst those hardest hit by the pandemic both as workers and as carers, disproportionately impacted by the cut in universal credit and the low rate of Statutory Sick Pay.

Just this week, news stories have shown the impact of lack of support for women during the menopause, the awful situation for pregnant women in prison, and the horrific murder of Ashling Murphy in Ireland; meanwhile in Palestine the Salhiye family, including eight children, is being forcibly evicted from their home in Sheikh Jarrah – there really are no shortage of issues on which we, as Labour Women, want our voices heard.

CLPD has suggested some motions for submission – including calling out Wes Streeting’s embrace of private sector undermining of the NHS.  And we desperately need our Party Leadership to listen to us, to respond and to start promoting an alternative framework to the government, which puts people before profit and advances rather than rejects the platform that the current Party Leader put forward in his election campaign for Leader, which he appears now to have firmly binned.

The deadline for submissions of motions, rule changes and election of delegates is midday 11 February – please act now to make sure Labour Women’s Conference stays left.

More information is available in CLPD’s Yellow Pages, Women’s Conference 2022, issue 1.

Women’s rights are human rights placard.

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