Sunday, June 18, 2017

Microphone turned off on Rule Book Rogers

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Conference-Anorak) may have anticipated a plethora of self-indulgent posting in the week of my twenty-sixth (and last) annual Conference. I would not want to disappoint regular readers.

Today I popped up twice, once this morning to laud the history of Lambeth’s opposition to local government spending cuts in support of the lengthy Composite C and then, more controversially, in the afternoon to offer some very particular support to a laudable motion (Motion 23) from West Sussex on Trade Union Facility Time.

The motion pointed out, with the admirable restraint which one expects from West Sussex branch, that each of the last three annual Local Government Conferences has called for action to support branches losing facility time, but that precious little seems to have resulted from these repeated calls.

Since the Senior Vice-President did (briefly) turn my microphone off, believing that I was inappropriately referring to staffing matters in my speech, I thought I should share the outline of what I had to say here. (Just in case anyone was recording my remarks, or tampering with a recording of those remarks, or considering threatening litigation, or for any other reason…)

Speaking to the hundreds of delegates, I noted that, having spent almost of all of the past twenty five years on full time release to UNISON I know the value of facility time and that activists (like the delegates present at Conference and the mover of the motion) are the lifeblood of our trade union.

I made a point of congratulating the mover, West Sussex Branch Secretary and my friend and comrade Dan Sartin for his election to our NEC (though I appreciate he may not really thank me for my having expressed the opinion that he will “sort them out”…) I then said that I wanted to go on to comment on one of the challenges which will face Dan and the new NEC.

At this point, I will quote verbatim from what I said at Conference this afternoon;

“There is not at present in UNISON ‘a healthy and vibrant culture of responsiveness to lay activist concerns’ as described in this motion.

On the contrary, in the Region which I have had the honour to represent on our NEC for fourteen years, the culture is such that the conduct of a senior manager has recently been described as ‘not just confident and swaggering in so openly breaking the rules, but chilling in its brazenness and demonstration of unchecked power.’ It has also been said, online and in the public domain that the Regional Management Team ‘were also directly involved in breach of the rules and have sought to collude in the cover up’.”

Just as I was going on to say that the culture of our Union is also such that, if you try to blow the whistle on such disrespect for lay activists you won’t be thanked, the Senior Vice-President turned the microphone off and chastised me for having made reference to staffing matters when I should have known this to be inappropriate.

(Having in any case concluded all such remarks I had intended to make) I assured the Senior Vice-President that I would not do so again and she turned my microphone back on. This enabled me to make the point that it was not UNISON staff, but rather the Presidential Team and Trustees of the Union who had circulated an email throughout the Union trying to discredit a whistleblower (I was just too modest to point out that I was that whistleblower, but since it’s just you and me here I shall mention it now).

I then said that the motion rightly drew attention the need for cultural change in our trade union – that we need a culture of respect for lay activists. I went on to remark that, when the Conference passed the motion (as indeed it did) there would be some at the UNISON Centre who would want to shrug and do nothing.

Since the question had previously arisen in the course of today’s Conference about who had previously performed in the Conference Centre in which we were meeting, I informed delegates that Bob Dylan had played there and (without giving the thanks I ought to have given to Paul Holmes for his advice on lyrics) I finished with a message to those UNISON officials;

“Come gather round officials wherever you roam,
Admit that the waters around you have grown,
Accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone,
If your time to you is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone,
For the times they are a-changin’”

I didn’t sing it.

But I don’t promise not to before the week is out. 
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