This delay will also provide an opportunity for those who do not wish to take the risk of downloading Samizdat information about NEC priorities to look away.
I will therefore now blog a brief report from Thursday's meeting of the UNISON NEC Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee meeting.
The D&O considered its recommendations as to NEC policy on Conference motions 1 to 10. (In a cunning attempt to persuade ourselves that we knew what we meant by the "organising agenda" a few years ago, the Union has ensured that motions on "organising" are numbered at the top of the preliminary agenda).
We're supporting all of them (with one exception to which I will return) but motions 5, 8 and 10 are supported "with qualifications" (which I have been advised - most emphatically - does NOT mean that the office knows Conference will agree something it has no intention of permitting the NEC to put into practice). The one motion we are opposing is Motion 7 from Bradford, but. We are putting an amendment to the motion and would support it if amended.
In any event, depending upon the prioritisation process, a composite of any or all of motions 7, 8 (from Manchester Community and Mental Health) and 9 (from Suffolk County) is likely, since all of them touch on the vexed question of how branches can best organise members outside our core employers.
The growing fragmentation of public services makes this a larger problem with each passing year and, in the context of an assault on arrangements for time off for lay representatives within our "lead" employers, the pressure on the various arrangements whereby our branch activists provide a service to, and try to organise, members in "peripheral" employers are coming under ever increasing pressure.
Branch Secretaries feel this pressure more than most since we are, like it or not, the "representatives of last resort" - the only people in the Union with no one to whom we can pass the buck. I spent two hours out of my office yesterday dealing with one such case - and therefore had to work well into the evening to keep my head above water with other branch duties.
Whilst I sympathise very much with some of the frustration expressed in motions 7 and 8 in particular, I do also understand the motivation for the NEC amendments to be moved to these motions which seek to redirect the sentiment of "can't you find someone else to represent these members"?
The essence of the view of the office, which will be expressed by the NEC at Conference, is that we should aim to build workplace organisation in peripheral employers so that the membership there can deal with most of their own issues in the same as any other well organised section. This is common sense with which no one could disagree, but from branch level it feels also like a counsel of perfection.
I am pleased that these motions are on the agenda, and hope that they get sufficient priority that there can be a useful debate amongst branch delegates about organising (as opposed to the sometimes vacuous exchange of platitudes around motions on "organising" which say the same thing year after year).
The D&O Committee also considered recommendations to the NEC on Rule Amendments on the Conference agenda. The NEC opposes, or is seeking withdrawal of, most of the proposals from branches (generally on reasonable grounds).
Given the emerging consensus (at last) around the revised Rule Amendments relating to action to exclude or expel far right activists from the Union (11 and 3 on the agenda), the main area of likely contention at Conference could be the maximum duration to be imposed upon disciplinary sanctions (other than expulsion) imposed on members by the Union.
Several branches seek a two year maximum (a position I personally support and which secured almost the necessary two thirds at last year's Conference). Haringey branch have proposed a three year maximum, which the NEC will be supporting (whilst seeking withdrawal of the various proposals for two years).
The background to this is a massive shift in NEC policy over the past couple of years under pressure from the floor of Conference (and, as in the late 1990s, debate over the disciplinary rules has also become "shadow boxing" over the application of the current rules in particular cases - which cannot themselves be discussed at Conference).
Last year, the NEC shifted from a position of opposition to change to ourselves proposing a five year time limit. This proposal could not even command the support of 50% of delegates (even though many who also voted for the far more popular two year time limit also supported it). Now the NEC have shifted to support for a three year maximum. This is a very positive move.
It will be a matter for the branches proposing the shorter time limit whether they agree to withdraw their proposals in favour of the three year limit - and regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Conference-Anorak) may anticipate that they will wait to see the outcome of the prioritisation process before doing so.
The final item at Thursday's D&O Committee was an interim report for Conference of the ongoing review of self-organisation. This says little as there is little, as yet, to say, though some of the more threatening noises which accompanied the initiation of the review seem to have quietened down.
In my next post, I'll report from the NEC itself...
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