Friday, April 04, 2014

UNISON National Delegate Conference - what motions should activists prioritise?

It’s ten years since UNISON realised the problems with making the preliminary agenda for UNISON National Delegate Conference available freely online (when a particularly far-sighted South London branch sensibly called for the resignation of then Prime Minister Tony Blair). Nowadays you have to log on as a UNISON member to read the Preliminary Agenda.

It’s important to read the preliminary agenda for several reasons. First, it shows you (to some extent) the 44 submissions ruled out of order, as well as the 159 motions and rule amendments which together made it to the agenda. Only the branches (or other UNISON bodies) moving the “ruled out” business can appeal – and I shall refrain from comment on various issues pending consideration of several appeals.

The preliminary agenda is also the basis for the all-important prioritisation process which I won’t explain in detail as I have done so before. From an activist point of view, prioritisation is absolutely not about simply choosing and prioritising the most important issues.

As I explained back in 2007;
“The most important point to bear in mind about the prioritisation process is that only motions which attract at least one “vote” stand any chance of being debated at Conference. Each Region, the Self-Organised Groups, the NEC etc. get to “vote” for their top twelve motions and top six Rule Amendments.

The top priority is given 12 points, down to the twelfth which gets one point, and then the order of business at Conference is decided by the Standing Orders Committee broadly in line with these preferences. Motions lower down the order of business are available for “reprioritisation” for discussion on Friday afternoon (subject to the Conference not being closed early in error of course!) The reprioritisation process is one of the most democratic features of the Conference (which is why many people in UNISON devoted considerable energy in a doomed attempt to do away with it and are now trying to squeeze it out of existence by timetabling other business on Friday afternoon).

Motions which attract no support from anywhere in the prioritisation process are not available for reprioritisation and so will not be debated (the NEC will determine UNISON policy on any that are not withdrawn after Conference). Just because a motion gets some support in the prioritisation process that is no guarantee that it will be debated (which is why there is a reprioritisation process) – however missing out at this stage ruins the chances that a motion can be debated at all
Where motions have been proposed by Regions, National Self-Organised Groups or the National Executive Council, it is a pretty fair bet that those bodies will be prioritising those motions, so it is only worth branches giving added support to these motions in the prioritisation process either to make a particularly important point, or to try to nudge the issue up the order of business.”

What this means is that it makes little sense for branches to give our top priority to the most important of all motions (say Motion 5 on “Organising in the Fragmented Workforce”) because we can be reasonably certain the NEC will give it a high priority (and can be equally certain that there are many branches who will follow suit).

We need to consider prioritising motions such as Motion 53 on “Defending Trade Union Activists” from the London Metropolitan University Branch, which focuses on the case of my comrade Max Watson (and his fellow UNISON member Jawad Botmeh, and UCU member Steve Jeffreys) – also, in the key debate on branch funding, I would (of course) put in a bid for prioritisation of Lambeth’s Motion 118 which makes the key point that the Union needs to shift resources to its branches.

The life of our trade union is in the rank and file and the branches, and it is there that we are in the front line of attacks from the employer (such as those being experienced by comrades in Barnet). UNISON must be transformed from a national organisation with branches into an organisation of members organised locally from the bottom up, with our UNISON Centre understanding its role as the servant of the local activists who will sustain and develop our trade union over coming years.

What UNISON activists need is a network independent of (though not in opposition to) our formal official structures (hidebound as they are) so that we can share our views on democratic questions such as the prioritisation of Conference motions.


Watch this space.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jon sometimes it is worth considering the facts before making pronouncements about funding.

In recent times branch reserves have gone UP from around £54m to about £58m.

So the issue is not that branches don't have enough money. It is that the money is incorrectly allocated. In fact we have some branches that are effectively hoarding money. If this money if for a rainy day then it's a monsoon out there and it really ought to be spent.

As a trade union we work collectively. So surely the answer is about the redistribution (a good socialist word) of the branch funding from those who have wealth to those whose need is greater. Or maybe, like the Tories and UKIP, you believe that redistribution of wealth is a dirty concept?

I know facts can be inconvenient when you want to make a political point, but perhaps it might be better for the future of the union and our members if we took decisions about the union based on facts.

Just a thought.....