Friday, June 19, 2015

How shall we reclaim our Conference?

Before UNISON Conference I expressed my disappointment about the way in which Conference has evolved over the past twenty years.
I also said that I would comment further on the ways in which lay democrats within UNISON could try to turn this tide.
Since then, of course, I’ve been a bit busy.
At Local Government Conference delegates tried to get to the Emergency Motions which stood out from an otherwise anodyne Conference agenda (on which the Executive supported pretty much everything). We did not get where we wanted to on the agenda – and I particularly apologised to friends in the North (West). But at least we tried.
From the perspective of the first three (of four) days of National Delegate Conference it has to be said that the “snake” has slithered far more slowly – and also that the machine has succeeded in persuading delegates to (re)prioritise important (but non-controversial) composites above controversy which could make a difference to the Union itself.
However, National Delegate Conference also saw a glimmer of hope from the decision of our Standing Orders Committee (SOC) to readmit to the agenda amendment 106.2 from West Sussex. Although this is now unlikely to be reached (and therefore debated) – and although it is opposed by the National Executive Council (NEC) – the decision of the SOC to listen to arguments from a branch and apply the Rules in a way which at least offered Conference the possibility of a choice is welcome.
I don’t mean to be critical of any past SOC decisions (much) (and if I did I would be alleging that they had breached Rule P). However it will be important for the future of UNISON if our SOC continues to facilitate debate. The independence of a lay SOC from both the NEC and the officer machine is a fundamental building block of trade union democracy.
However, if we want a Conference worthy of its status as the “supreme government” of our Union there are things that we – as lay activists – need to do both before and after SOC get to see the motions we submit. First, we need to coordinate, between branches, about the submission of motions (and Rule Amendments) targeted at achieving positive change in our trade union.
Recognising that the task of restoring Conference to its proper status will take some years we need to try to find – and agree upon – no more than one or two key priorities for next year, which should be issues in relation to which a Conference decision is both feasible and would make a difference.
Secondly, we then need to campaign for the prioritisation of these items in the pre-Conference prioritisation process. This process (like the reprioritisation process which is its daughter) is deeply flawed (why, for example, should the NEC have a say in either process? What is fair about the relative weight assigned to the priorities of the various UNISON bodies involved, some of which are more readily manipulated than others?). However, for now this is the process which we have – and we must play by the rules which have been written by those who do not want a vibrant, democratic Conference,

Those branches who believe in lay leadership, democracy and accountability to the membership (you know who you are...) need to make arrangements to communicate in the autumn in order to resolve upon our priorities for 2016.

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