Monday, April 16, 2007

More (much more) on Conference priorities...

As I was saying, it’s time to be considering priorities for discussion at UNISON National Delegate Conference.

The most important point to bear in mind about the prioritisation process is that only motions which attract at least one “vote” stand any chance of being debated at Conference. Each Region, the Self-Organised Groups, the NEC etc. get to “vote” for their top twelve motions and top six Rule Amendments. (The latter really doesn’t matter as we get so few Rule Amendments these days – a great disappointment to we anoraks…!)

The top priority is given 12 points, down to the twelfth which gets one point, and then the order of business at Conference is decided by the Standing Orders Committee broadly in line with these preferences. Motions lower down the order of business are available for “reprioritisation” for discussion on Friday afternoon (subject to the Conference not being closed early in error of course!) The reprioritisation process is one of the most democratic features of the Conference (which is why many people in UNISON devoted considerable energy in a doomed attempt to do away with it and are now trying to squeeze it out of existence by timetabling other business on Friday afternoon).

Motions which attract no support from anywhere in the prioritisation process are not available for reprioritisation and so will not be debated (the NEC will determine UNISON policy on any that are not withdrawn after Conference). Just because a motion gets some support in the prioritisation process that is no guarantee that it will be debated (which is why there is a reprioritisation process) – however missing out at this stage ruins the chances that a motion can be debated at all.

Branches get a say in this process if their Region is sufficiently democratic to give them a say – in Greater London the Region will automatically give its first priority to the one of our two motions which has not been ruled out of Order (an old SOC tradition is to rule out one of the London Region’s two motions). This leaves a further eleven motions, and the Region will support those motions which attract the most support from branches in the Region.

Where motions have been proposed by Regions, National Self-Organised Groups or the National Executive Council, it is a pretty fair bet that those bodies will be prioritising those motions, so it is only worth branches giving added support to these motions in the prioritisation process either to make a particularly important point, or to try to nudge the issue up the order of business.

Branches in London have a few more days to decide (my own branch will decide tomorrow, but having contributed so enthusiastically to the Preliminary Agenda we may rather predictably prioritise some of our own motions!)

Taking a slightly wider view for a moment, I offer the following thoughts – and would welcome comments – about what motions it might be worth giving priority to, in numerical order as set out in the Preliminary Agenda – i.e. not in order of priority (I’ll blog again about that in the light of any comments).

Motions 23 (Use of Disciplinary Procedures Against Black Staff) and 25 (Barriers to Progression and Promotion for Black Employees) are both from the National Black Members Conference and should be debated. However both also touch upon key issues confronting many UNISON members, particularly in Greater London. I am inclined to support prioritising these motions rather than the identical motions from Croydon and Lambeth so as to focus expressions of priority most effectively.

One out of Motions 28 and 29 (both titled Save Our Services – Say No to Privatisation) would be good to see debated. As 28 comes from Birmingham and 29 from Camden, it might be good tactical sense for Londoners to rally behind Motion 28 in the hope that it is also attracting support in the West Midlands (and for that matter elsewhere). We need to take our policies in defence of Public Services forward in a much more combative way than we have in the last year.

Motion 37 (Defend Council Housing) or 38 (Support the Fourth Option) ought to make it on to the agenda I hope – but which should be pushed hardest? 37 is from both York and Lambeth so I naturally like it, but it may be that 38 has more that is useful to say?

Another pair of motions between which it would make sense to plump for only one are 43 (Unison’s Agenda) and 44 (Taking Unison Policies Forward). I definitely lean towards Motion 44 (not least because the SOC have rightly admitted to the agenda a motion which the majority of the NEC Development and Organisation Committee must think should not be debated at Conference!)

Motion 46 on the Trade Union Freedom Bill needs to be prioritised so that it can be composited with Motion 45 on a related topic, which would seem likely to attract a high priority, as it comes from Cymru/Wales Region.

Although I have some reservations about the tone of Motion 49 (the marvellously titled “New Labour – What Do We Get for our Money?”) I hope it is prioritised. Those who are content with our wholly inadequate intervention in the Labour Party as a trade union may complain that we had a debate about our political funds a few years ago, but I suspect our only chance of ever improving the functioning of the Labour Link is by continuing to have this important debate.

There are several worthy motions on international topics, but the one that stands out in my view is Motion 54 (Sanctions Against Israel) which seeks to give some practical effect to our policy of solidarity with the Palestinians.

Clearly we want to see a discussion about Trident at our Conference, and we have the choice of motions 73, 74 and 75. I’d welcome comments about tactical decision-making about which of these it would be best to prioritise.

Motion 95 (NO2ID still) offers us the chance to reaffirm our policy of opposition to ID cards which could otherwise all too easily slip down our agenda, and – if prioritised – might be suitable to be composited with Motion 94 from the Eastern Region which is an excellent attempt firmly to commit UNISON to fight against the surveillance state which is one of the worst consequences of New Labour illiberalism.

Last – but by no means least – Motion 129 (Expenses Payments for Unison Members) deals with a topic which I guess many in the Union would prefer not to discuss but which we ought to deal with. It was quite wrong that the NEC itself decided to increase its own expenses payments a couple of years ago and we ought to stop that happening again.

Sorry for such a long and rambling post, but out of all this what is needed is a list of eleven motions in some rough order of priority – or have I missed the most important issues?

Comments are more than welcome – either on the blog or by Email to

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