Saturday, March 28, 2015
Moving that the question be put
In the third of three posts this evening reflecting upon this week's UNISON Special Local Government Conference I want to deal with the question of Conference delegates moving " that the question be now put." A fair bit of this went on on Tuesday, to the extent that the President (who was chairing the Conference) remarked upon it.
This sort of thing does not happen by accident - and several of the commentators mentioned in the last-but-one post on this blog had something to say on the topic.
UNISON Active describe motions as having been "battered through with little debate as the Conference voted time and again to move business on."
Yes. Conference voted. (And as UNISON Active acknowledges, it agreed all the wordy but worthy motions which had been scripted by those who hoped to avoid such rapid progress).
There's a hint of the same regret in the reporting of the Special Conference by Socialist Worker, who give characteristic emphasis to the importance of the positive reception afforded to the oratory of their own members.
The Socialist Party (who are no doubt amongst the "career platform bashers" deplored by UNISON Active) showed in their reporting a better understanding of the importance of the "disciplined approach from delegates on the floor." It was this "disciplined approach" to moving along the business of Conference that helped to deliver the decisions taken on the day.
Co-operation between delegates who had attended the pre-Conference fringe meeting at Camden Town Hall was important to delivering the "disciplined approach" rightly noted in the report from the Socialist Party. There was nothing inevitable about the rapid progress through the agenda of the Special Conference - although it was plainly the wish of the majority of delegates.
Conferences in general - and Special Conferences in particular - are not primarily opportunities for public speaking, personal development or political education. A Conference is essentially a forum for decision-making - and that means that it is the decisions that are made that matter.
On Tuesday it was as important as it has been at any Conference that delegates were prepared to get up and move that "the question be now put". This is not "undemocratic" as some delegates believe - it is an essentially democratic step to ask a Conference if it wants to move on and vote, and Conference only does this when a majority are of that view.
The co-operation between delegates from branches with a shared interest in the Conference agenda on Tuesday (regardless of other differences) was a model of what has been missing at UNISON Conferences in recent years.
UNISON members require Conference delegates prepared to make themselves unpopular (and to risk the occasional error of judgement) in order to propose that the Conference moves to next business, so that our decision making body can take the decisions which we are sent to Conference to make.
In the 1990s we understood this - and we need to regain that understanding if we want our Conferences to be effective and meaningful. Lay activists in UNISON have ceded a great deal of the power we ought to have in our Union in recent years.
Tuesday showed what we can achieve at a UNISON Conference when we put our members' interests first.
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.