Thursday, January 20, 2011

Regional Committee - one step forward two steps back

UNISON's Greater London Regional Committee met on Wednesday morning and took a step forward with a positive focus on a campaigning response to the Coalition's attacks upon the Welfare State.

The scale of the attack upon our members across all service groups is such that we have to unite in action - even if this is limited at this stage to building for the 26 March demonstration (which is, after all, the single most important event on the political horizon).

All UNISON branches in Greater London need to aim to mobilise not just our members but their friends and families on the streets on 26 March. We face a particular responsibility to mobilise our members in the city where the demonstration is to take place.

I was pleased to hear, in discussion around this point of the meeting, that there will be a branch briefing on pensions (even if not until May) since it is only around pensions that we may be able to mobilise the national action necessary to force a "U-turn" on the Coalition. (The (local) "guerilla action" against attacks which has been much lauded in our Region is, of course, a fallback position rather more than it is a strategy.)

I believe that the Regional Committee reflected the desire of our members to resist the attacks from the Tory-led Coalition Government, and believe that this was indeed a positive step forward.

Unfortunately we also managed a couple of modest steps backwards, as a narrow majority on the Committee insisted upon asserting itself rather than seek consensus.

Both of these steps away from unity were made with the purpose of limiting democracy in the Region and impairing the ability of our lay structures to hold our officials to account, and arose from consideration of Regional Committee policy on submissions to the Regional Council Annual General Meeting on 9 February.

The first setback for UNISON's members concerned the quorum for the Regional Council. Democrats on the Committee argued without success that, since it is now more than five years since a meeting other than the Annual General Meeting was quorate, we should therefore support a Rule Amendment to reduce the quorum from one third to one quarter of registered delegates.

Opponents of this measure argued that a smaller quorum is less democratic - but the likely consequence should this view prevail at the Regional Council will be that decisionmaking will continue to be in the hands of far fewer people, far less accountable to our members, than if we can hold quorate meetings of the Regional Council with (say) 30% of registered delegates present.

It was particularly disappointing that the narrow majority who opposed a pragmatic step to achieve quorate Regional Councils failed to reciprocate the conciliatory move from the supporters of this proposal, who had backed a proposal to revert from four to three Regional Councils a year. The question of the number and frequency of Regional Councils is clearly a matter which requires an amendment to Rule and the Committee was unanimous in backing three meetings a year.

The second setback for our members then arose from the bizarre (and questionable) decision of our Regional Council officers to permit on to the agenda a motion seeking to cancel all but two Regional Council meetings annually, replacing others with briefings for activists.

This motion plainly breaches the Rules of the Union but - rather than focus on a technical argument about Rules - those worried by this potential breach suggested that the Committee ask the movers to remit the motion for consideration of how to achieve its objectives without departing from our Constitution.

Once again, by ten votes to eight, the Committee rejected the path of compromise and decided to support a policy motion (for there to be only two Regional Councils a year) which contradicted a Rule Amendment (that there should be three Regional Councils a year) which had been supported unanimously some moments before.

(I am sure I ought not to complain about such inconsistency, although I forget now whether it was Winston Churchill or Enver Hoxha who said that "consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds".)

Since the Regional Council Officers had been diligent in ruling out of order all motions making reference to industrial action against cuts (in some cases on fairly tenuous grounds) it was all the more intriguing that they had shown the flexibility to permit on to the agenda a policy motion seeking to amend the Rules. However a majority of the Regional Committee were happy to support this.

Briefings for activists are enormously valuable, but can never be a substitute for (quorate) meetings of elected bodies charged with holding the leaders of our Union (both elected and appointed) to account.

Trade union democracy is all about making life uncomfortable for all our leaders (at every level - I would apply this principle as much to myself at branch level as to colleagues regionally and nationally).

We don't want this discomfort for some sado-masochistic reason but because an accountable leadership is more effective in promoting the interests of ourselves as members.

For the moment our Regional Committee faces, in my opinion, the wrong way on this question. It will be for the Regional Council AGM, and - ultimately - our members to arrive at a definitive position.

I hope we can aspire to be both a democratic and fighting union.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange


Anonymous said...

Any news on the SSSNB? We were told there would be a consultative ballot in the new year, but it's gone very quiet.

Always thought it was an odd one to ballot over with everything else that is going on and would have been hard to link with other unions - the GMB don't favour action which would have been problematic.

Skint Teaching Assistant.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jon,

As far as I am aware, the ballot will now not be taking place. Information from UNISON re. Schools does seem very slow and we have not heard anything officially yet.

We don't seem to be kept up to date with discussions re. the SSSNB or Schools in general. Seems at times as though we are the poor relation!

Skint Teaching Assistant

Skint Teaching Assistant