Sunday, March 22, 2009

What priorities for UNISON Conference?

Attentive observers of our trade union (Sid and Doris Conference-Anorak) will have spent their weekend poring over the recently published Preliminary Agenda for UNISON National Delegate Conference.

133 Policy Motions and 21 Rule Amendments have made it onto the agenda, from which 52 Policy Motions and 37 Rule Amendments have been ruled out of order. The next step in constructing the Conference agenda is the prioritisation process about which I have blogged before (ad nauseam). The gist of the previous posts for those who haven’t clicked those links is that branches need to consider which motions on the Preliminary Agenda to support for prioritisation bearing in mind that only prioritised motions can be debated at Conference.

I have only just started thinking about what we should be prioritising, but a few things do stand out. A number of motions deal in different ways with the problems posed by anti-working class Government policies and the shortcomings of UNISON’s relationship with the Labour Party from the point of view of our members.

The motion agreed at National Black Members’ Conference on the Labour Government and the Black Community appears on the Conference Agenda as Motion 102 (and also 103) – this makes the persuasive point that the current government has lost its way and that our Party is no longer a party for the working class and the vulnerable within our society, and commits the Union to campaign against the misuse of stop and search and anti-terror laws.

There are a number of good motions on the Economic Crisis, including Motion 56 and Motion 28 which points out that the threats posed to the viability of the Private Finance Initiative by the financial crisis and its knock-on effects “have decisively strengthened the union's historic criticisms of a programme that has resulted since the early 1990s in the privatisation of our members' jobs, threatened their terms and conditions, and acted as a subsidy from the taxpayer to the profits of construction industry consortia.” The motion goes on to call for a campaign for privatised services to be brought back into the public sector.

A lengthy motion from the Greenwich Branch (Motion 41) makes a strong case for a change of direction for the Union; “The correct political position is one based on prioritising our members and the services we provide. This is clearly not taking place at present. A change of direction is necessary if we are to create a stronger UNISON able to protect our members, our jobs, our pensions from the coming attacks.” I also rather like Motion 62 from Glasgow which states that “there is an economic alternative to free market capitalism based on the common and democratic ownership of the major elements of the economy, namely democratic socialism.”

Amongst the International motions I have a (branch) vested interest in promoting interest in Motion 85 “Hands Off the People of Iran” but activists also need to consider which of the various motions on Palestine and Gaza to prioritise. The NEC motion will get prioritised as will the sharper (and shorter) South East Region motion but if the wording of other motions is to be available for a composite they too will need to have been prioritised.

True Conference anoraks will have an interest in Motion 7 on Fair Representation in Conference delegations which will enable Conference itself to have the debate which is otherwise simply an annual feature of the October meeting of the NEC Development and Organisation Committee.

The critical question of our future structures – which will dominate the Rule Amendments on Thursday afternoon – is taken up in the NEC Motion (Motion 9) to which branches may wish to look to move amendments. Conference may of course prefer the approach of Motion 10 from Southwark which calls for adequate consultation on proposals for change. This is an area which requires further discussion ahead of Conference.

Finally (for now) I’ll plug Motion 11 from Lambeth which seeks to move the discussion of our future relationship with the GMB out of the TUC social and onto the floor of Conference.

I'll return to this topic later (but then if you were looking for fun you wouldn't be reading here!)

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