UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.
Sunday, 14 June 2015
Then there’s what happens in the Conference hall. The SECC itself has become controversial as a result of the policies pursued by its management, so has only itself to blame. And if UNISON were booking its conference now, perhaps we could take those policies into account. But it is worth remembering that the lead time between booking a conference venue and actually using it is about five years.
As usual NDC starts with the ceremonial of the Presidents Address, the Standing Orders Report, the Annual Report and Questions and the Financial Statement and Accounts. Try and stay awake, although Tuesday morning can seem to last a week, something for which Dr Who probably has an explanation. Former SOC star Clytus Williams has played his last gig as SOC chair, retiring unbeaten after around twenty annual appearances before assembled delegates, so his former vice chair Gail steps up into the spotlight. She has a hard act to follow but we hope that she will continue the former firm but fair and humorous approach.
Things get more interesting on Tuesday afternoon, when Dave Prentis the General Secretary takes to the stage, performing his one man show, sorry giving us the General Secretary’s address on the state of the union, its place in the universe and the price of mince. Are we damned and doomed, or ready to fly in the sun? Don’t miss this latest instalment. Following this Conference debates Funding Public Services, rather fundamental to our anti austerity approach.
The day starts with a debate on the real state of the union, as Composite A is debated on Organising Our Members. Growing our union is more than a matter of attracting new members. It is about recognising the changing nature of our workplaces, and the changing nature of the workforce, and how we change our practices to reflect that.
It is also about debating the changing environment in which we operate and how we can ensure that we “grow” and educate our activist base to ensure that we can continue to serve the members in the workplace. This debate is the “bread and butter” issue that is fundamental to the future of our union.
On Wednesday afternoon Pensions makes an unexpected appearance on the agenda, reminding everyone that there are still issues that our schemes and scheme members face. Then conference debates UNISON and Devolution, a subject thrust into the spotlight by the recent election results, particularly on this side of the border.
Politics aside, the union needs to consider whether its own internal processes still meet the functional needs of the members in the devolved nations and this debate gives us the opportunity to do that, while the North West motion gives an opportunity to review the Tory imposition of combined authorities that threaten public finances and public services.
This morning Conference has the opportunity to gaze beyond its own navel by looking toward the international arena. We start with an address by Paul Moist of CUPE, whose union has experience of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and can inform the debate that will follow on TTIP. The agenda then continues with the international theme, debating the aftermath of the Bhopal Disaster, courtesy of Scotland, and then Solidarity with Palestine, courtesy of North West, a cause that this union has proudly been associated with in all of the years of its existence.
And so on Thursday afternoon, NDC debates its own rule book. Some people in the hall are said to enjoy the constitutional niceties. Then again, some people like tossing the caber and highland dancing. It doesn’t make them bad people, just different from the rest of us.
Equality debates dominate Friday morning, from facility time for equality reps to incorporating equalities into our collective agreements. Incorporating equalities into our mainstream practices is vital for this union, while Motion 85 from Northern Ireland ruts the spotlight on the rollback on equalities and human rights and how we can put them back on the agenda. Then we wait for the process of reprioritisation for the Friday afternoon highlights, before catching the bus, train, plane or car or indeed taxi back to whence we came.
Best of the Rest
Tacking Vulnerable Employment has been a major theme that the union has tackled over the past five years from zero hours contracts to agency workers and Motion 10 neatly encapsulates the approach to these topics. Pay has been a major debate for the past few years and with the continuing Tory cap on pay in the public sector (unless of course you are a member of the House of Commons) must be a major debate this year.
Given the agenda that we now face in terms of the future of our public services, conference has an opportunity to place its concerns on record with the debate on Motion 29 and to look to how we face the future. Similarly Comp B on the Living Wage clarifies our demands around the national minimum wage and the living wage, likely to continue is a major weapon in our attempts to secure better earnings for many of our members. Other motions like 92 and Comp I address major social issues, while the issues around the social care agenda and workforce deserve their place on the agenda.
Finally the hangover from last conference is addressed in motion 106 and amendments on branch funding. The fundamentals of this debate have not changed. While the branch funding formula ensures that 23% of the union’s income is used for funding branch activity, in reality, in terms of the union’s resources, around 80% of the union’s resources goes into servicing the membership.
This is not just the fighting fund but the staffing resources in regional officers, the AOs and LOs, the legal services, the campaigning, the health and safety advice, the equality services that the union provides.
What is also evident is that branches have unequal access to the union’s resources and that is what the Branch Resources Working party has been seeking to address and is piloting now in Scotland and later this year throughout the union. Motion 106 would cut though that approach, and seeks to abandon a more equal distribution of resources, a socialist principle, with a demand that cuts through the unions budgeting strategy.
* This statement about the status of Scotland's capital is unlikely to be accurate.