Tuesday, March 29, 2016

UNISON, the Trade Union Bill and the law - a sorry saga set to unfold?

As we head towards UNISON's June Conference we can anticipate unanimous support for Motion 46 from the National Executive Council (NEC) which rightly describes the Trade Union Bill as "the biggest assault upon working people's rights in living memory."

In relation to the outrageous further restrictions on our ability to take industrial action within the law, the NEC ask Conference to agree that‎ "UNISON will have to organise, campaign and challenge the proposed new restrictions with all the resources of the union in our workplaces, in our communities and in the courts." The NEC seek a call upon ourselves from Conference to "continue to oppose the Trade Union Bill and any provisions that make it on the statute books."

With all of that I agree - but how?

How shall we "challenge" the new restrictions or "oppose" any "provisions that make it on the statute books" if we start from a position of unquestioning obedience to the law (however bad)?

Because, Because, no mistake about it, UNISON's current approach (officially) is never, ever, to risk breaking the law (no matter how restrictive that law may become or how many international treaty obligations it may trample into the dust).

Indeed, we may not even discuss at our Conference the possibility that we might seek to change this approach. And an attempt to amend the very Rule, upon a questionable interpretation of which this prohibition is founded has itself been ruled out or order.

The current Rule B.4.5 says that one of the aims and objectives of the Union shall be to "perform such other duties and engage in such other business as a trade union may lawfully undertake."

In the past, the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) for our National Delegate Conference (NDC) has applied this rule (and in particular the word "lawfully" which it contains) to rule out of order any motion for debate at Conference which even suggests that UNISON might have to operate outside the law.

This has always been an arguably absurd reading of what is obviously intended to be a "miscellaneous" paragraph within our "aims and objectives" with which the authors clearly intended to ‎capture any activity which they had omitted in the other aims and objectives.

Nevertheless, in order to try to get the Union off the hook of the (now established) interpretation of Rule B.4.5, Lambeth branch proposed to delete the existing wording and replace it with an aim and objective "to undertake such other activities as may be determined by the union in accordance with these Rules."

Risibly, this Rule Amendment has been ruled out of order on the grounds that it "could place the union in legal jeopardy." Whilst the branch can - and will - challenge this ruling, the fact that the Rule Amendment does not have a number on the Preliminary Agenda means that it cannot be prioritised for debate in the pre-Conference prioritisation process (of which more soon).

Furthermore, since the SOC decided some years ago that Rule Amendments not debated on the Thursday afternoon of NDC could not be part of the "reprioritisation process" in which the order of business for about ninety minutes of the Friday afternoon is determined, the only realistic chance that a Rule Amendment, once having been ruled out of order, could be debated would be if it were not only put back on the agenda but also timetabled for debate.

‎So, we can agree all manner of fine words with which to garland our campaign of opposition to the Trade Union Bill, but its most important proposal, to make national industrial action within the law an effective impossibility, is something to which we shall bend the knee (whilst forbidding ourselves from even debating any alternative).

Where in this approach can we see a future for trade unionism?

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

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