Wednesday, June 18, 2014
In jeopardy at Conference
I am blogging from UNISON Conference where I have, over the years, occasionally found myself in jeopardy of one kind or another.
These days however, there is a spectre haunting our Conferences (and, or so it would seem, our Standing Orders Committees in particular) and that is the spectre of legal jeopardy.
At Local Government Conference a couple of emergency motions on the pay dispute were ruled out of order - and their texts not even printed - on the ground that they might place the union in legal jeopardy.
This was unsettling for many delegates, since we could not even know what it was we should refrain from saying, or debating, if we wished to avoid this "legal jeopardy." At the behest of wise and helpful comrades your humble blogger sought to move the Conference into private session for that debate in the hope that we might protect ourselves from jeopardy.
The Conference having heard from our President that this would make no difference (since this legal jeopardy - which must be some sort of fluid - could get in through the doors even if we were in private session) decided not to take up that suggestion (although, in the event, no delegate had to be silenced for having overstepped any unseen mark).
Today at National Delegate Conference, legal jeopardy once more reared its invisible head and bared its unseen fangs as the Conference floor, having yesterday referred back a controversial decision to rule out important motions on violence against women, refused to allow the movers further time to debate with SOC and accepted the SOC view that a debate at our National Delegate Conference around a policy already adopted by our Women's Conference could put the union in legal jeopardy.
The partial understanding of ever more cautious legal advice has been a convenient tool to eliminate controversy at our Conference over many years.
Now, however, the spectre of legal jeopardy has escaped even from the control of those who sought to use it in this way.
We need fundamentally to rethink our approach to this question. Otherwise we might as well dispense with Conference altogether and simply refer motions from branches and UNISON bodies for a Counsel's opinion.
As a student of labour history I doubt that we would have a labour movement to have Conferences had those who built our unions had the same attitude as our SOC to legal jeopardy.
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.