Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Conference approaches - how do we respond to the far right in our own ranks...?

Apologies for the lack of posts. I do mean to do some more analysis of the UNISON NEC election results soon, but for now, as well as trying to sort out work in the branch ahead of Conference week I also have some preparation to do.

There are some good fringe meetings coming up, which I will blog about here (before and after) and at one of these delegates will have an opportunity to hear from victims of what appears to be (to a reasonable observer) unjustified and politically motivated disciplinary action within the Union.

There are those in membership of the union (active supporters of far right organisations for example) whom many UNISON activists might think should face some sanction from the Union. This has proven possible under UNISON's existing rules - and UNISON has defended itself against legal challenge in such a case in the past (and won support for having done so).

Because of recent legal changes UNISON's NEC is proposing a rule amendment which is intended to strengthen the hand of the Union to discipline supporters of far right parties. This follows discussion at the Development and Organisation Committee in December. However, because of the timing of the receipt of legal advice by the Union, the Committee did not have an opportunity to have a full and informed debate about what is now Rule Amendment No. 4 (proposed at the NEC in February).

This Rule Amendment is quite distinct from the campaigning work which we have done and must do against the far right, but inevitably the debates will come to overlap.

As I have said before, I would have preferred a simple Rule Amendment which said that membership of the British National Party was incompatible with membership of UNISON. Instead what we have got is a more vaguely worded formula which states that applicants for membership are ineligible if they are members of a political party contrary to UNISON's Aims and Values (with particular reference to the provisions concerning equality).

The argument which was used against my proposal at the previous Committee meeting (in December) where we had a briefing from a solicitor, was not that the specific prohibition would be unlawful but that it would enable the far right to get round the ban by changing the name of their organisation. I can understand this argument as having had force a few years ago, but now I don't think that it is at all compelling. The Act does seem to permit a prohibition on membership of a particular organisation.

A specific prohibition allows Conference to decide what is and is not acceptable to us. A general prohibition on active membership of parties which are contrary to UNISON's Aims and Values is being perceived by some on the left as potentially available for use against members of political parties other than parties of the far right. The problem with Rule Amendment 4 is that, because of the power of the NEC to interpret the Rule Book, it gives the NEC the final say about which political parties are - and are not - unacceptable to UNISON.

This will therefore, I think, be a difficult debate. At the risk of offending those who believe rather too passionately in the collective responsibility of NEC members (Sid and Doris Hoxha) I think I have to say at the moment that, as an individual and in a personal capacity, I am a long way from being convinced by the approach we are currently taking...

1 comment:

The Haiku said...

Sorry if this is the wrong place to post this, but I couldn't find a "contact" button.

I thought you'd be interested in this music video about trade unions and the nonsense they have to put up with from those at the top of the ladder.