Friday, July 10, 2009

TUC delegation meeting fails to implement Conference policy

In the final thrilling installment from the drafting of my NEC report we reach yesterday afternoon's TUC delegation meeting...

The NEC meeting was followed by a meeting of the TUC delegation which I attended as an NEC member.

The delegation meeting had to choose three motions to submit to the TUC. In line with what was described as “the way we have always done things” (but was in fact in line with decisions taken only last year) the delegation meeting was presented with three draft motions from which to choose any three.

Formally these motions came from the Presidential Team (who had been elected the previous day) in consultation with the Chair of the Policy Committee (who had also been elected the previous day). In practice they had been drafted by officers.

Delegates queried the arrangements for submission of motions and were assured that all the “constituent bodies” of the TUC delegation (Regions, Service Groups, Self-Organised Groups etc.) had received adequate notice to submit either motions or ideas for motions and that where this had been done these had been taken into account.

The motions dealt with defending the NHS, fighting the BNP and public services.

The first motion “Defending Our NHS” calls for an end to privatisation in the Health Service and is likely to be the heart of one of the major composite motions at this year's Trades Union Congress.

The second motion “Fighting the BNP and Far Right” concentrates on a number of specific action points instructing the General Council on how to assist trade unions in responding to the rise of the far right. Delegates successfully proposed amendments to this motion from the floor in order to add a reference to “Unite Against Fascism” alongside “Searchlight.” Again I am sure that other trade unions will submit motions on this topic in the light of the results of the European elections and the confusion created by the new Employment Act and that this motion will become part of a Composite.

The third motion “Public Services and the Economy” deals with the need to protect public services in a recession. This gave rise to some debate as (of the three motions before the meeting) this was the only one in which any attempt could be made to implement a specific decision of our National Delegate Conference.

When this year's National Delegate Conference agreed Composite D “Defending UNISON Members' Pension Schemes” it took a specific decision as follows;

“UNISON to bring a motion to the TUC calling on them to organise a united campaign in defence of final salary pension schemes in both the private and public sector.”

I argued that the Union should comply with this Conference decision and that, if the only way to do this was to add this demand into the motion on public services and the economy then this is what should have been done (making compensatory cuts elsewhere in the motion to comply with the TUC's stringent 250 word limit).

Both before and during the meeting it was pointed out to me (in respect of Composite D at National Delegate Conference) that “this had been our qualification” when the policy of the NEC on this motion had been agreed as “support with qualifications”. This laughable argument (in response to which I confess to having laughed) reflects a misunderstanding which is widespread at Mabledon Place, where there appears to be a view that if Conference passes a policy which the NEC has “supported with qualifications” then the NEC is somehow entitled to implement the Conference decision only in part because of those “qualifications”. There is no basis in Rule for this view.

I believe that the failure of UNISON to implement the policy of our Conference to “bring a motion to the TUC calling on them to organise a united campaign in defence of final salary pension schemes in both the private and public sector” is both constitutionally and politically mistaken. If NEC colleagues believe that it is wrong for Conference to “tie the hands” of the TUC delegation with specific instructions about the submission of motions to the TUC then the NEC should either propose amendments or speak against such proposals. Once Conference has taken a decision, whether it was supported or opposed by the NEC (and regardless of any “qualifications”) that is the policy of the Union. UNISON's affiliation to the TUC is implemented by the NEC in accordance with its powers under Rule D.2.9.7 and as such is subject to Rule D.2.1 which provides that the NEC shall not do anything “that is inconsistent with” the policy of the Union “as laid down by the National Delegate Conference.

In approving for submission to the delegation meeting a selection of three motions which failed to comply with a specific Conference decision taken just three weeks previously the Presidential Team were acting on behalf of the NEC but, since what they did was inconsistent with Conference policy, neither the NEC nor the Presidential Team had the power under Rule to act as they did. As a Rule Book anorak I shall raise this with the General Secretary.

More important than these procedural points however (and they are important) I think it is a grave error that UNISON has not (yet) taken the opportunity to put on the TUC agenda a demand which unifies the interests of workers in the public and private sectors. We should do this because we have thousands of private sector members who are often forgotten – but we should also do it to defend the interests of our public sector members.

One of the greatest threats to public servants at the moment is the attempt on the part of the Government and employers to drive a wedge between public and private sector workers – seen most recently in the demand for a public sector pay freeze from the £250k a year head of the Audit Commission.

UNISON's response to this should not be to focus on the falling membership of UNITE and to stoke up fears that they will start poaching our public sector members. Instead we should be demanding that, as well as protecting conditions in the public sector, the TUC must fight for the same rights and conditions for private sector workers. The decision of our National Delegate Conference that one of our motions to the TUC should be a defence of final salary pension schemes across both the public and private sectors was not just a timely identification of a coming battle ground for our public sector members, it was also an intelligent attempt to build solidarity beyond the confines of the public sector.

The arrogant refusal to implement a Conference decision because of a foolish misunderstanding of the meaning of “support with qualifications” threatens to set back the interests of our members.

The only response to this argument at the delegation meeting was to add the word “pensions” to a call to oppose cuts in public services. This is positive but does nothing to indicate the need for a united campaign to defend final salary schemes across both the public and private sectors which was what Conference specifically agreed that we should do.

I hope that the NEC Policy Committee, who will have a chance in August to consider our three amendments to motions on the TUC Preliminary Agenda will try to repair the damage which has been done by the failure of the Presidential Team to implement Conference Policy.

(Update on Sunday 12 July – check out this cogent argument for the defence of defined benefit pension schemes across the private and public sectors over at Ian’s UNITE Site.)

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