Monday, June 20, 2011

The not-quite-debate

You can read elsewhere online more comprehensive coverage of yesterday's first day of UNISON's Local Government Conference.
I was out of the hall for the key debate on pensions awaiting an appointment with my old friends, the Standing Orders Committee (SOC). SOC had ruled out of order a motion from Lambeth which called upon the Service Group Executive (SGE) to provide advice to Regions on how to campaign for "needs" budgets, on the grounds that such radical action could place the union in legal jeopardy.
Although the SOC were not persuaded to change their mind, the Chair did explain to me in outline their reasons. It seems that some helpful soul had flagged our motion up as one on which SOC would need legal advice, and that they had then been fortunate enough to get such advice from a most imaginative source.
First, SOC told me that, on their reading of our Rule Book, UNISON has a general duty to act within the law and that this extends to not encouraging others to take unlawful action.
I did point out that we have existing policy in support of civil disobedience in the fight for civil rights for disabled people and that this novel and restrictive interpretation would not have permitted us even to have discussed this established policy, but to no avail.
Secondly, SOC were concerned that, were UNISON to encourage a local authority to set a "needs" budget and were this to lead (in some unspecified way) to a breakdown in some particular service, then service users might take legal action against UNISON as much as against the authority itself.
Finding this argument unconvincing I asked if this logic did not suggest that branches who failed to fight in defence of a threatened service (contrary to our aims and objectives as set out in Rule B) might not face similar threats of litigation.
Thirdly, SOC were worried that local authorities defending litigation brought against them as a result of their having followed our suggestion to set a "needs" budget might seek to "join" UNISON as co-respndents as has been tried (without success) in some equal pay litigation.
All in all, the reasoning of SOC seemed threadbare at best. However, SOC did agree to circulate the legal advice to Regions - and to report this fact to Conference, and - later in the afternoon, Conference agreed Motion 3 as amended, which commits us to campaign for "parallel" budgets.
(Parallel budgets are "needs" budgets minus the intention to implement them).
Therefore we did, in the end, have the debate we wanted, albeit we weren't permitted to get anywhere near it's logical conclusion.
This debate will continue...

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