Thursday, July 09, 2009

General Secretary's Report to the UNISON NEC

I am still drafting my report to London UNISON branches from the NEC meeting which took place over the last two days - an official report of which is now online.

Here, to be going on with, is the unexpurgated first draft of the section of my report dealing with the report of the General Secretary;

The second day of the NEC meeting commenced with the report of the General Secretary who (as usual) gave a wide ranging verbal report of which I shall report the main items.

The NEC agreed to send a message of support to members taking strike action at London Metropolitan University on Tuesday 14 July.

In relation to the decision of Conference not to approve Rule Amendments intended to facilitate disciplinary action against members of the British National Party and other far right organisations (because many delegates feared that the wording of the the proposed Rules was too vague and threatened action against other political opponents of the Union leadership) Dave stated that we had to “sit down as a Union and work out how we are going to deal with” the UNISON members who appear on the list of BNP members which has been circulated quite widely.

Following the Conference decision a number of those who had been in support of the proposed Rule Amendment had foolishly suggested that it would not be possible for UNISON to take any action against BNP members in our ranks. I had even heard this view expressed by an NEC member in the Greater London Region. However Dave Prentis adopted a more mature and sensible approach, expressing his regret that we would now have to involve more people (and more effort) in taking action (and saying that it was a “disaster” that we now needed to do this) but nevertheless committing us to taking action (and agreeing to seek legal advice on circulating the information on BNP membership which the national Union has to our branches).

The Chair of the Development and Organisation Committee said that guidance would be issued to branches on how to take action in relation to BNP members in our ranks and that branches would also be advised to await that guidance before taking any action. Since evidence of BNP membership on the part of a UNISON member provides sufficient grounds (in accordance with Rule I.5) to commence an investigation into whether the member has been active in support of that Party (contrary to Rule I.3) I hope that this guidance will be available very soon and that it will therefore not be necessary to circulate unofficial guidance.

Informed views of the current law suggest that it will be difficult to take action against a Union member simply for their membership of the BNP (which implies that the NEC's optimistic reliance upon questionable legal advice may have been misleading to Conference). It is however possible to take action against any UNISON member actively supporting the BNP and branches should initiate investigations wherever they have evidence of such activity (obviously seeking the advice of the Regional office as appropriate).

I noted that when Glenn Kelly (NEC member for local government) spoke in this debate and – in measured tones – suggested that the Conference's refusal to back the NEC proposal with the requisite two thirds majority reflected views about the political witch hunt in the Union, he was howled down by the majority of my NEC colleagues. Far from intervening to chastise the meeting for its treatment of an NEC member deserving of respect, the President sought to silence Glenn.

This behaviour on the part of the majority of the NEC very much gives the lie to the confected “outrage” about heckling at Conference, a subject upon which some colleagues have wasted a lot of time and hot air. I hope to hear no more complaints about gentle heckling from Conference delegates from the hypocrites who howled Glenn down (but appreciate that this may be a triumph of hope over experience!)

Dave also dealt in his report with the threats of privatisation of primary care services within the National Health Service and stated that this would be a major campaign for the Union in the run up to the TUC and Labour Party Conferences and that we had “re-formed” the NHS Together campaign, bringing together all the TUC health unions with the RCN and BMA to defend the health service (under UNISON's leadership).

Dave spoke about the “Million Voices for Change” campaign and said that this would be a nationally coordinated campaign reflecting the priorities of branches, Regions and Service Groups. The General Secretary also responded positively to my suggestion that we should use this campaign to showcase examples of good practice such as the campaigning activities of the Barnet local government branch in response to their employer's “Future Shape” proposals. In discussing the public sector pay freeze proposals disgracefully advanced by the overpaid head of the Audit Commission, Dave said that the Treasury seemed to be retreating on this at the moment but that it remained a threat.

In response to questions, the General Secretary confirmed that the National Labour Link Committee had suspended all UNISON Constituency Development Plans and that the Committee were working on criteria by which to determine whether to resume support for any Constituency Labour Parties, and would also be reviewing our relationship with Members of Parliament. He reminded the NEC that there is a review of the effectiveness of our political fund (in connection with which branches should be completing and returning a questionnaire).

On being asked about pensions, Dave said that a factsheet would be issued as part of the Million Voices campaign – and the Chair of the Service Group Liaison Committee confirmed that a meeting of representatives of Service Groups and Sectors would take place on 30 July to discuss the defence of the Local Government Pension Scheme. Branches wishing more information about this should contact their Service Group or Sector representative.

Tomorrow I hope to finish the report back from the NEC meeting - covering the discussion of the review of UNISON structures and the implementation of Conference decisions on Service Groups - and also to report back from the TUC delegation meeting (at which a specific Conference decision was ignored because it had only been supported "with qualifications"...)

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