Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Development and Organisation Committee report

Today I attended a meeting of the UNISON Development and Organisation Committee. Here are the edited highlights;

(right, that was the edited highlights, now for the report…)

We began with a report on amendments to UNISON’s objectives. This is clearly a hot topic for those who work in the organisation – although they had better work out as we apparently want to “re-profile” our staff, which sounds to me worryingly like compulsory plastic surgery!

As always the meeting then started properly with a report on recruitment. Recruitment figures this year are disappointing and the report before us concluded (as always) that we must try harder (anyone remember Boxer in Animal Farm?)

More positively we were assured that when (I don’t think it is if) the Industrial Action Committee tomorrow approves the national strike ballot in local government there will be targeted recruitment materials so we can make the most of an excellent opportunity. The Union is also looking to join the twenty first century with a facility to join online, although this will inevitably lead to more members paying direct debit (and therefore ending up in the wrong branches over time unless we can crack getting membership details updated regularly).

We also received a report on Learning and Organising (including the news that we will be bidding for money from the next tranche of the Union Learning Fund) and a report on “leadership development training” for members of the National Executive Council. Since this will cover, amongst other things, the vexed question of “collective responsibility” I doubt I shall be included in the first wave of NEC members to be developed as leaders. I shall try to be brave in the face of such disappointment.

The Committee heard the latest news about the RMS (that is the “Replacement Membership System” although we don’t call it that any more) – apparently in 2009 we will implement a new membership system (will it be called the RRMS???)

Frank Hont, Regional Secretary from the North West Region and former Chair of the Committee in his days as a lay activist, attended to report on the work underway to implement Conference decisions on the review of branch and service group structures. This is now going to be carried forward by named senior officials working to a small working group of NEC members and other leading lay activists. I sought and received assurances that there would actually be discussion at the Development and Organisation Committee as this work was carried forward and will let you know in due course what weight I have attached to those assurances.

We then received a report on the CASE management system, and were told that there is now enough information on the system for it to produce meaningful reports about the casework being undertaken by the Union at Regional level – we were invited to make suggestions about what reports and information we wanted to see and I would welcome suggestions from UNISON members to pass on to the relevant officials.

The Committee also received a report about the integration of the computer systems used by UNISON Welfare and the RMS – I was assured that confidential welfare information would not appear on the RMS.

A hardy perennial appeared in bloom as we received the first report on proportionality and fair representation at Conference – I shall return to this topic in greater length when we debate it (at greater length) in November. A worrying dip in the representation of black members at our Conference suggests to me that our current prescriptive approach is not delivering fair representation.

The Committee then received a bizarre report from officers advising us that even though the National Disabled Members Committee had not made a reference to us about a controversial decision of the National Disabled Members Conference we ought nevertheless to take a decision about the matter in hand. Happily we did not. The issue concerned extending the deaf members’ caucus within the Disabled Members self-organised group to include those who are hearing impaired.

I felt that we needed to be far more respectful of the decisions of a self-organised group than we were being invited to be and was happy that the decision was deferred.

If members of the self-organised group want to know what was said about their Conference decisions by an official please do get in touch!

Following a report about UNISON’s response to consultation on the legal changes required by ASLEF’s important European legal victory over the question of fascists in our unions, the Committee then turned to consider the cases of branches under Regional supervision.

It is positive that we are now receiving reports about this matter, but the fact that the Leeds local government branch remains under supervision attracted considerable adverse comment and with good cause. I remain perplexed at the suggestion that a branch under regional supervision could somehow have behaved in a way of which the Region disapproves and look forward to the full report which we were promised for the next meeting.

A longer debate then ensued on “Chairs action” around the decision of the Chair (and the Presidential team) to endorse contentious advice to health branches and activists that they ought not to campaign against (or I suppose for) the pay offer in the light of a decision by the Service Group Executive to make no recommendation.

Several members of the Committee explained at some length how daft it was to use the “Democracy in UNISON” guidelines against – as we saw it – the spirit and the letter of the relevant Union Rules which safeguard the right to campaign. After a spirited defence of the “official” position from an official (who said that the Union should “speak with one voice”) one of the lay members of the Committee was finally shamed into supporting the position then endorsed by a majority, which is that the Committee noted what the Chair had done.

Any trade union that can only speak with “one voice” is a trade union that will not thrive and does not deserve to survive. Our Rules specifically defend the right to campaign to change policy and that must mean a right to express different views – I am astonished by the idea that our members will somehow be confused by the fact that there are differences of opinion in our Union and I am afraid that I was drawn into making disparaging remarks about the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

I know – that’s no way to win friends and influence people at Mabledon Place…

Oh dear…


Anonymous said...

An interesting take on what sounds to have been an "interesting meeting". I am glad to have found this blog - despite having an NEC member as a Senior Officer within my branch we do not receive such candid reports on what has happened.

We only found out this week that our NEC member is on the industrial committee.........

And that was only becasue as a group we were complaining about the male hen rising that appears to be the leadership of the union and the way they could not organize an industrial action in a brewery let alone a p....... up.

Anonymous said...

As a Branch Membership Secretary in UNISON I was intigued to see that RMS is going to be replaced? Whats the reason for this?