These diverse, energetic and enthusiastic candidates would, if elected, provide an articulate and effective lay leadership to energise and rejuvenate the Region which is, as our first Regional Secretary, Chris Humphreys, was fond of saying, the most important in the Union.
Almost eighteen years ago I was one of 140 delegates who attended the first Regional AGM, on 16 March 1994. That Regional Council had a constitution negotiated between the "former partner unions" (as we used to refer to them) and some of the most important business of the day was to democratise that constitution, by increasing the frequency of meetings and reducing the quorum, to enable the Council to function effectively.
In the infancy of UNISON, then less than one year old, branches were afforded much greater leeway, as we had not yet developed the structures which are now so ossified that we perenially try to review them. Therefore Islington could call for industrial action, Bexley for a demonstration and Bromley for a strike across the whole of UNISON - all in opposition to a pay freeze (the Regional Council supported all these calls).
Whilst the issues we then faced from the employers (and a Tory Government) are horribly familiar the trade union context is dissimilar. We would not now be able to debate these issues at Regional Council, although in 1994 an independent Standing Orders Committee admitted them on to the agenda. Now, a group of Regional Council Officers (whose standing orders function in relation to Regional Council has never been approved by Council) would rule all such matters out of order.
That first Regional Council AGM also saw the Hackney Branch successfully move a motion of censure against the Regional Secretary (who deserved the censure and took it, for all I could see, in good part). These days, not only would such a motion never make it on to the agenda, its mover would likely be acquainted with the provisions of Appendix Two to the UNISON Rule Book!
Thanks to that decision (when the first Regional Council AGM, in 1994, agreed Motion 21) it is for all time (until revoked) the policy of the Greater London Region of UNISON that "bureaucratic manoeuvring to avoid member participation in their own union is contemptible." This is something upon which anyone who has ever discouraged the attendance of delegates to Regional Council should certainly reflect.
That first AGM ended with drama, as there was a dead heat in the first ever election for Regional Convenor, so that former NALGO District Secretary, Debbie Long, defeated Geoff Martin (who would go on to be Convenor for ten years from 1996) only because she had secured more first preference votes.
Whether or not we see such drama tomorrow, I remember the excitement and anticipation of those early days, as we began to build a new and massive trade union which we believed would have great power and would use that power for the good of its members.
Tomorrow's excellent slate of left candidates (Marshajane Thompson - Convenor; Phoebe Watkins - Deputy Convenor; Finance - Vinothan Sangarapillai; Equalities - Ruth Cashman; Publicity - Naomi Bain) are the chance we have to recapture the hope with which UNISON was born in Greater London.
Incidentally, in our first year, our Regional Council held two further (quorate) meetings, on 1 July and 4 November. I predict that, if the candidates of the left are elected to rejuvenate our Region, then we shall have two further quorate meetings of our Regional Council in 2012, just as we did in 1994.
If, however, there is no change of personnel, I fear that there shall be no change of practice - and that we shall continue to fail to hold quorate meetings of our Regional Council apart from the Annual General Meeting (as we have failed since 2005).
For the benefit of regular readers, Sid and Doris Hoxha I shall finish this post with a clear restatement of Regional policy these past eighteen years "bureaucratic manoeuvring to avoid member participation in their own union is contemptible."
See you tomorrow comrades!
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