Saturday, October 03, 2009

Democracy, Leadership and Debate

Having had to read up a bit on debates in the US Labor Movement which may have some relevance to us in the UK, I was struck by this description of the attitude of the leaders of our sister union the SEIU by one critic;

" (they) would have the whole union leadership, top to bottom, local and international, elective and appointive, acting as one monolithic bloc, speaking to the membership with one united voice in favor of the official line."

This is pretty much the conception of collective responsibility favoured by the majority of my colleagues on UNISON's NEC (although happily not the approach of UNISON's Rule Book).

In the latest "clarification" of "collective responsibility" next week's NEC meeting will be asked to endorse a recommendation that members of a Committee of the NEC may neither speak nor vote against any proposals from that Committee to the full NEC (although in a minor concession we will be permitted to abstain!)

This measure is intended to eliminate "duplication of debate" but threaten to create an absurd position in which a minority could become a majority if the minority happened to have a majority on a particular Committee.

I can see nothing in UNISON's Rules which entitles the NEC to instruct its members how to vote at NEC meetings - and I think that stifling of dissent and debate can only weaken our Union.

I have asked if the Union will ensure that all NEC members are provided with relevant legal advice received by the Development and Organisation Committee at its December 2008 meeting. I will let you know if this request is accepted, and also how the vote goes. (I'll also go on expressing my own views as well as reporting on decisions whether or not I agree with them).

I do think we need to be careful to safeguard our lay democracy (including the right to express dissenting views) - it appears that our friends across the pond are learning this?

4 comments:

Martin Wicks said...

I didn't realise Prentis and co were supporters of 'democratic centralism'. What an irony. How does this differ from the methods of some far left groups which the UNISON apparatus is so keen to criticise?

I'm not a member of UNISON but I would suggest that this is a very big issue which represents an attack on democracy.

It would provide a bureaucratic instrument for lining up a majority on the NEC.

They have absolutely no right to tie an elected NEC member to a 'discipline' of a sub-committee. Surely only open debate at the full NEC should determine what position a union takes (within the context of policy determined by the annual conference).

Brian said...

Martin,
Jon has an absolute right to raise this issue, but what has this got to do with you? You are not a UNISON member so stop interfering in our internal organisation. Either that or join and have your say. I am pig sick of people who want to have a go at us who are members of other unions.
Brian

Brian said...

Jon,
I don't see other trade unions as our enemies when they are organising outwith our legitimate areas. Unite is a different kettle of fish. I was talking with one of their senior full-time organisers last week who made it absolutely clear his brief, and the union's strategy, is building up to an aggressive recruitment programme in the public sector and to hell with any agreements.
As a UNISON member I can't sit back and welcome that or see Unite as anything other than trouble.
Brian

Martin Wicks said...

How is commenting on a post by Jon interfeering? I'm expressing an opinion.

What Brian do you think of the issue he has raised?