Friday, 22 June 2007

Brighton 2007: Fundamental decisions, so why was it so boring?

UNISON Conference 2007: A straw poll suggests many delegates found the rules afternoon the most exciting of the week. Now that just about says it all.

How could a Conference that made fundamental decisions about a co-ordinated fight for pay, a trade union wide fight against privatisation and decisded key policies on pensions seem so dull?

Maybe the answer lies – as this Briefing has said so many times before – in Conference taking control of itself. We spent longer arguing about what should be debated on pay than actually debating it. It seems to be only on Friday that we discover our collective power to move business along.

We witnessed the uncomfortable sight of the Standing Orders Committee being attacked as biased in often quite intemperate terms. Whether you agree with their decisions or not – those who know key committee members will testify to the fact that they work fastidiously to try to be as constructive as possible

Does anyone really want to sit through half an hour or more every morning wrangling over standing orders and priorities that had already been set in consultation with Regions?

And as for ‘out of order’ motions – many branch secretaries in Scotland would have their knuckles wrapped by their branch for getting the motion wrong. They would not be up wasting Conference time trying to get the unadmittable admitted on to the agenda.

But when Conference got going, it got going well. Lively debates (even on rules) were the exception but welcome when they came.

Scotland played a huge part, in much greater proportion than our numbers. Jane Carolan played a key role speaking for an NEC where it seems many want to keep a low profile and avoid controversy.

Mike Kirby rescued the business on Thursday morning after the reference back debacle by guiding the President into keeping the agenda going.

Mike spoke on many key issues and was joined by a host of other Scotland speakers from branches large and small and across a range of services. All in the tradition of putting the arguments, trying for the hearts and minds – being critical when needed - but largely avoiding destructive and cheap platform bashing.

Our speakers had something different to say each time. They addressed the motions and the points of debate. That is refreshing in a Conference where some took pleasure in getting up time after time to flog the same dead horse.

Again, the international guests reminded us that trade unionism should mean global solidarity. We have our struggles but when you hear of theirs it makes you feel very humble.

The plethora of Scotland speakers did expose one issue we need to address for the future. It is not just in Service Groups that the devolution agenda is becoming obvious, it is national Conference too.

Issues like housing, schools, and many health and local democracy issues are specific to Scotland.

We need therefore to develop discussion in the union about how we can all fully involve ourselves under UNISON’s national policy agenda.

The answer may well lie in developing joint seminars with the NEC Policy structures on various topics to ensure devolution issues are addressed while maintaining solidarity and a broad policy and campaigning consistency across our union.

Safe home to everyone. You can find reports on the main issues Scotland was involved in at www.unison-scotland.org.uk/conf2007 . Many reports are already on and we will be completing the updates and photo gallery early next week.

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