At 11am this morning, our President Chris Tansley, reasonably and justifiably confident that the NEC would get through our business before, or shortly after, lunch, let us have a tea break (tea and coffee being verboten in the prestigous ninth floor Conference Chamber where most of the NEC meet).
He suggested we have a somewhat longer break than normal, so that the NEC Policy Committee could use the time to have a brief meeting to agree our response to consultation from the TUC following last September's Congress decision to give consideration to "the practicalities of a General Strike."
In the event the Policy Committee debated the issue for ninety minutes, with the rest of the NEC told to go to lunch an hour into our "tea break". As I was minding people's stuff in the first floor video link room, I was treated to the experience (probably unique in human history) of watching the UNISON NEC Policy Committee as a silent movie (with snippets of sound when someone on the top table pressed the wrong button).
This episode has probably taken the NEC's rigid Committee structure (and its fairly recently developed convention of "Committee collective responsibility") to a new height of absurdity, since the decision taken by the Policy Committee during the tea break then became a recommendation to the whole NEC straight after lunch (although the minority on the Policy Committee who had not supported their Committee's decision were bound both to silence and to support the decision).
Given that the majority of the NEC were despatched to drink tea and eat biscuits while the minority who are on the Policy Committee debated this important question, we clearly might just as well have had the whole debate as a whole NEC, as we had numerous other debates. As with the insistence last year by the Chair of Policy that that Committee dominate NEC representation on the TUC delegation, there were grumbles from more than just the usual suspects.
The delegation to the Policy Committee of all TUC matters appears increasingly to be an error which should be rectified. Alternatively we should treat delegation to Committees in a much less rigid way. The Rules permit us to establish Committees and delegate authority to them, but there would have been nothing to prevent the NEC dealing directly with this issue without it having first been to the Policy Committee.
The substance of UNISON's response was thorough and comprehensive, and deserves its own blog post in the near future. In a nutshell, UNISON's official view is that a General Strike is a tactic rather than a strategy, and that it is not to be ruled out. However "consideration of a general strike can only be the culmination, rather than the beginning, of a campaign.
I'll consider the practicalities of blogging more on this topic soon...
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