Thursday, June 22, 2017

Qualifications about qualifications?

My only contribution this morning at my penultimate meeting of UNISON’s National Executive Council (NEC) was to ask an innocent little question about whether or not the idea of an NEC policy of “support with qualifications” on Conference motions may have had its day.

This led to a lengthy debate divided fairly evenly between those who thought that the conduct of the NEC in this regard was annoying to Conference delegates and those (probably the majority) who seemed to think that the attitude of some Conference delegates was annoying the NEC.

The latter group, the composition of which largely coincides with those who adhere to a particularly hard-line interpretation of the collective responsibility of the NEC (of which more later) felt that delegates did not understand that a policy of “support with qualifications” was simply an honest expression of the opinion of the NEC for the benefit of delegates and their deliberations.

This is the formal position of the majority of my NEC colleagues (and it is in the spirit of collective responsibility that I should so advise you). It is, however, utter nonsense.

Having attended every UNISON National Delegate Conference, fourteen of them sat on the top table as a member of the NEC, I can authoritatively advise delegates that what the more cynical among you believe is indeed the truth – an NEC policy of “support with qualifications” means that your NEC knows it cannot persuade you to object to something but have little intention of seriously acting upon your decision once you have taken it.

Of course, the phrase “support with qualifications” has no standing whatsoever in Rule. The Rule Book is clear that it is in National Delegate Conference that the “supreme Government of the Union shall be vested” (Rule D.1.1). If Conference makes a decision (whether it did so with the support of the NEC, against the opposition of the NEC or with the “qualified” support of the NEC) then that is the policy of the Union, and the NEC should act upon it.

Nevertheless, it is sometimes the case that the NEC fails to act promptly and effectively to ensure the implementation of Conference policy – and there is no doubt that some officials feel that, if the NEC has originally supported the relevant decision “with qualifications” this provides an excuse for such an absence of enthusiasm.

Given that the NEC has the power to submit an unlimited number of amendments to Conference motions, and could therefore propose the deletion of any disagreeable points of detail within an otherwise agreeable motion, it might be better if the future NEC ceases to adopt the cop-out of supporting such motions “with qualifications”.

However, what I would say to those delegates who are annoyed by the NEC adopting qualified support for motions is that the policy of the NEC is much less significant and important than what you, as delegates, do at and after Conference. You should make UNISON policy and – as activists in the branches and the Regions – you should monitor its implementation.


So – for example – it is up to you to make sure that the decision of Conference in passing Motion 103 yesterday is implemented. The “qualifications” expressed by your NEC about that motion are as irrelevant moving forward as they were unnecessary at the time.

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