Sunday, June 23, 2013

Out of the bubble

I'm back in the real world now after UNISON's Local Government and National Delegate Conferences and will catch up with blogging over the next few days (including some proper reports from Conference).

For the moment I'll share a few unconnected thoughts from a Conference which was at once inspiring and worrying.

There's a lot of anger amongst our activists, much of it directed at our leadership - but there's neither the confidence nor the organisation of the rank and file to make that anger count. That's why Local Government Conference gave the top table a kicking over a pay deal we had already accepted. We need to build rank and file organisation if we want a different outcome in 2014 (or ever).

The further-sighted elements of our leadership see the problems which our Union faces (and that this may require greater radicalism than is offered by their loyal supporters) - hence the call for the national demonstration to defend the NHS in Manchester on 29 September. However (as the Grand Old Duke of York may well eventually have discovered) it's not always easy to mobilise people. We have a lot of work to do and a lot of trains and coaches to book and fill.

One theme of this year across our movement may well be that a lamentably attenuated grasp of gender politics has become the "common sense of the age" - and the defeat of Amendment 8.1 at Conference showed the same lack of understanding of the specificity of male violence against women which had previously been exhibited elsewhere. Given that UNISON now has, for the first time, a Presidential Team (of the President and two Vice-Presidents) which is exclusively female, I continue to hope that those women (and men) who see the need for the Union with the most women members to be a feminist organisation shall prevail.

The "left" in UNISON, which once routinely punched above its weight at Conference has been marginalised as Conference has been sanitised. Looking back over twenty years of UNISON, it is easy to see how the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) has taken a progressively more restrictive approach, how the prioritisation process has been honed into a device to avoid controversy, and how those who want Conference to be a showcase rather than "the supreme Government" of the Union have become better and better at floor organising.

This last problem is but one aspect of the problem that there is no effective rank and file organisation within UNISON.

And that is a question to which I intend to return...

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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