Saturday, June 25, 2011

The torpor of Friday afternoon

Following the excitement of Thursday afternoon at UNISON's National Delegate Conference, the conduct of Friday afternoon's business demonstrated a lamentable lack of enthusiasm.
With the very honourable exception of a small number of delegates (predominantly from London and predominantly from the Left) who took responsibility for trying to drive Conference business forward, most delegates seemed content to allow Conference to be a platform for those who consider speechifying to be more important than policymaking.
I salute those delegates who braved the wrath of other delegates to move that the question be put. Barry from Camden deserves a medal.
It may seem unimportant how many motions we get to when the NEC (to whom they will be referred if we do not reach them) are in support, but it is dangerous if we allow the machinery of lay democracy to atrophy in our trade union.
For the moment, the spirit of unity against the Coalition Government means that, on substantive issues of policy (rather than questions of Rules and finance) there is unity of purpose between the floor of Conference and the platform. Experience suggests that this will not always be the case.
The unhealthy influence exercised by the national machine over Regional lay structures (exemplified by the crass "churnalism" in Conference bulletins about which I have blogged earlier) dictates that the pre-Conference prioritisation process can marginalise dissent, making the reprioritisation process at Conference a vital opportunity for lay members to assert authority in our own Union.
This was used to best effect a few years ago when a groundswell of opinion led to a motion from Bromley branch critical of Labour Link topping the list of reprioritised motions. (Should individuals hostile to the interests of UNISON members secure the expulsion of the mover of that motion this will, incidentally, demonstrate that some of the words of our General Secretary on Tuesday afternoon were hollow and meaningless - an outcome I very much hope we avoid!)
For reprioritisation to do the job it was designed for, the floor of Conference needs, in future years, to show the same commitment to moving business along, as was shown by too few delegates yesterday. We also need a reduction in speaking times on Friday afternoon, and an approach from SOC which proactively promotes composites of single motions with their own amendments where these will not be controversial.
UNISON members should reserve more policymaking to Conference, and leave less to the NEC.

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