Monday, June 23, 2008

Democracy debate at UNISON Conference

Whilst the Conference database on the UNISON website now includes decisions of last week’s National Delegate Conference, the detail of Motion 45 on Democracy in UNISON is not yet up properly (but I am hoping that the link will work soon).

The motion was debated on Thursday afternoon and the outcome of the debate was moderately good for democrats in the Union.

The origins of this motion were, more than anything else, in the dissatisfaction felt by the Scottish health branches at the absurdity of the attempts in 2007 to threaten disciplinary action against branches making recommendations in a pay ballot in which the national leadership had refused to make a recommendation.

The main motion called for a review of UNISON’s democratic processes and an amendment from Lambeth which made it on to the agenda (as other amendments did not) sought to reinforce the rights of branches and other UNISON bodies (and members) to campaign, including making their own recommendations in such circumstances.

The NEC agreed to support (with qualifications) the amendment from the Lambeth branch, which was accepted by the Scottish Region in moving the main motion. The motion, as amended, passed overwhelmingly.

The NEC accepted that branches have the right to campaign (which is a significant step forward from where we were last year!) However, the majority of my NEC colleagues would probably endorse the qualification expressed by Chris Tansley, which is that the NEC don’t think that individual members of Service Group Executives should be permitted to campaign against SGE decisions.

There will now be a review of our democratic processes and activists need to engage with this review in order to press home the point about the rights of branches, and also to debate the question of “collective responsibility” as it applies to members elected to leadership bodies. I think it is reasonable to expect members of a Committee to explain the decisions of the Committee when reporting back, whether or not they agreed with them. However – as regular readers of this blog may realise – I also think it is OK to express personal opinions.

As busy as we should and will be fighting the Government’s pay freeze it is important that we do not take our eye off the ball of union democracy. I shall comment further after the meeting of the NEC Development and Organisation Committee on 9 July.

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