Wednesday, June 20, 2018

UNISON Conference delegates fighting for democracy in the trade union


A year ago I attended my last UNISON National Delegate Conference and this year I am watching from afar as an interested member of my trade union.

1 July 2018 will see the twenty fifth birthday of the Union and the NEC therefore supported a proposal to Conference (set out in Composite A) for a “review” of the Union.

(This was not, as I had mistakenly thought, a proposal for a “revue” notwithstanding the hilarious suggestion made by the General Secretary that the Union was a “left” union – a quip which nearly matched the legendary “ice sculpture” sketch for sheer laughs).

Upon visiting the Local Government Conference at the weekend I became aware that branches were trying to amend Composite A to National Delegate Conference in order to inject some democracy and accountability into the composition of a “taskforce” proposed to oversee the review.

I understand that this attempted amendment was ruled out of order and that therefore, delegates (mistrusting the approach of a Union machine that did not wish to hold itself accountable to its active members) determined to oppose the Composite motion.

Following a debate, a vote on a show of hands showed clearly that the Composite motion had been defeated, but the Union’s Vice President, chairing the Conference initially sought to declare that the motion had been carried – and only conceded a card vote following some considerable contention.

The outcome of the card vote was that the Composite motion (supported by the NEC) had been comprehensively defeated. It is now in the hands of delegates whether or not they reprioritise another motion in order to pursue the question of a review of the Union as it enters its twenty sixth year.

This unfortunate handling of a controversial debate is hardly unheard of over the years at UNISON Conference. Fifteen years ago I was pleased to win a majority vote (on a show of hands) to amend Schedule D to the UNISON Rule Book on behalf of the Lambeth Branch.

Some years later the then Vice President who had chaired that debate confided in me that he had faced criticism for calling the vote carried although he could see that was the result (I don’t think that a former Labour MP will mind too much my sharing that confidence all these years later).

I am very sorry that UNISON’s Vice President in 2018 was not able to show the same judgement as had the Vice President in 2003. The leadership of a national trade union in visible decline should not be picking a fight with its best activists.

I am so glad that UNISON Conference delegates continue to fight on for democratic control of our trade union.