UNISON Annual Conferences Report
Local Government and Annual Conference Report 2014
Local Government: Carol Garfield, Jane Drabble, Alison Meredith, Gabrielle Taylor, Doreen Campbell, Jacqueline Minott, Yolanda Zyla, Liz Armstrong, Gary Turley-Finch, Steve Barnett, Mark Green, Gillian McPherson (substitute).
National Delegate Conference: Alison Meredith, Gabrielle Taylor, Doreen Campbell, Jacqueline Minott, Yolanda Zyla, Liz Armstrong, Gary Turley-Finch, David Hughes, Marie Dobinson, Paul McCormack, Joan Brown, Lisa Kelly, Wendy Johnson
Local Government: The recurring theme of debates was the need to unite to make the anticipated yes vote on industrial action a reality as a way of beginning the fight back over pay and the other attacks facing local government workers. All the motions debated had the support of the Local Government Service Group Executive and were carried usually unanimously. The only controversy was several emergency motions on the pay claim that were not printed due to fear that they may place the union in legal jeopardy, a phrase to be repeated often during the main conference.
Annual Conference: Again the recurring theme of debates was the need to unite the different sections of UNISON in order to fight back over pay and the other attacks facing public sector workers. This feeling of unity was also backed up by the National Executive Council (NEC) supporting all the motions debated.
The NEC withdrew its own controversial motion on Branch Reserves and instead supported a broader Composite on Branch Resources; this was subsequently narrowly lost on a card vote For 558,435 Against 559,988, our card vote was cast in favour.
Several motions generated strong contributions including Immigration, UKIP and the Politics of Hate, Colombia, Zero Hours Contracts and An NHS for the Future.
Ironically the main controversy was over motions not debated. Two motions on Violence Against Women (one identical to a motion passed at the UNISON Women’s Conference) were ruled out of order on the grounds of legal jeopardy. The offending sentence read “Conference therefore believes that, when women complain of male violence within our movement, our trade union should start from a position of believing women.” The Standing Orders Committee (SOC) believed that this would place the union in legal jeopardy as there may be cases were the union is requested to represent both parties, this despite the very next sentence stating “This must of course be without prejudice to a fair and impartial investigation, which protects the rights of all parties.”
Despite the Standing Orders Committee report being referred back, they returned with an unchanged position that was then accepted by a vote of conference. A similar fate awaited a reference back on a motion from Tower Hamlets that called for industrial action to defend jobs and services, as the latter would place the union in legal jeopardy.
Once only the province for UNISON anoraks rule change afternoon again sparked lively debate. An amendment to Rule G to introduce a “Disability Officer” to the list of required officers was opposed by members of the LGBT Committee because it raised the possibility of having a non –disabled person elected when UNISON’s self-organised tradition contradicted this. It raised the possibility of a man being a Women’s Officer, a white member a Black Members Officer and a straight member a LGBT officer. There was already scope in the rules for self-organised groups to elect their own officers. The branch delegates agreed with this argument and though the motion was carried on a card vote, For 528,641 Against 500,877 it failed to achieve the two thirds majority required.
A rule to make Conference bi-annual was opposed by the NEC and was lost. A rule to widen the scope of unemployed membership to include members felt forced to resign was carried by a two thirds majority despite opposition from the NEC after one of our own delegates made a very effective contribution about her experience as a Social Worker and the pressures they are sometime under. She was our only speaker of the week and this reflected the fact the Branch had not submitted any motions or amendments.
Views From Some Of The Delegates
Gary Turley-Finch I found the whole experience of attending this year’s national and local government conference extremely interesting and exciting, it has allowed me to understand how my unison contributions safeguard our rights and future ethical principles.
I have attended several fringe events the first an LGBT caucus meeting, which enabled me to understand how certain motions might have effects on myself and the greater LGBT communities/members; at this meeting I was able to draw attention to Birmingham UNISON LGBT SOG’s support of Stonewall’s NO Bystanders Campaign, by discouraging the use of derogatory, discriminatory and institutional language (based on unconscious bias and by discouraging the acceptance of such language without challenge at such meetings. I was able to meet with other SOG members and chairs from other areas and share good ways of promoting the SOGs and becoming allies.
I also attended a fringe meeting with invited speakers and ambassadors form Uruguay and Cuba who gave a different view point to the ones portrayed by the media
I also enjoyed the experience of being local government delegate leader; which enabled me to support my colleagues to attend and fully experience the conference and allowed me to develop and gain skills.
Alison Meredith I thought conference was interesting, passionate, amusing, sad, tiring. I thought some of the speeches were very moving, it was fantastic to see so many people moved by what they believe is just and right. I was glad however I was a sharer as for me its uncomfortable to sit for long periods of time. I met some fantastic people and as a group we all got on. Gary did an excellent job of keeping us all together on journey.
Liz Armstrong As a first time delegate, I did not know what to expect however it was a good experience. I felt the local and the national government over lapped with a lot of things. I also felt that a lot of speakers were talking about the same motion, repeating the same information but not bringing new points, arguments or information.
I was bit disappointed that Birmingham is the largest authority but we did not have any motions to speak to but well-done to Jacqueline who was confident to stand up and support the motion about members who felt pressured to resign.
I would like to strongly suggest that in the future conferences we are prepared and have motions and speakers from Birmingham.
Carol Garfield As a first time delegate for the local government conference I was excited but also apprehensive, nervous and a little bewildered by the conference documents. However I needn't have worried as within minutes of boarding the train I had met several delegates, who quickly became friends, and felt much more at ease.
I was originally disappointed to discover I had a shared vote especially as this was not previously explained to me but I think that my sharer, My shared delegate colleage and I worked well together. I was also disappointed that there weren't any speakers from Birmingham.
I enjoyed listening to the speakers, some of whom were very entertaining but all of them informative. As a Teaching Assistant, I felt particularly passionate about the motion to support school support staff.
Overall my conference experience was very enjoyable and I felt proud and privileged to have been part of it and would have liked to have attended both conferences.
Paul McCormack I really enjoyed my first National delegates conference in Brighton this year, it was a great opportunity to meet with other unison colleagues from all over the country including Northern Ireland Scotland and Wales. There were some brilliant debates one of which was the emergence of UKIP all over the country, there was mass condemnation of the insidious racist opinions that they stand for. A particularly passionate speech was made by Glen Kelly from London and was met with a rousing long applause.
The address by general secretary David Prentis was OK. He was asking unison members to give the Tory Con-Lib government an autumn to remember by taking unified industrial action. For me though his performance was lack – lustre and devoid of much charisma and passion for a man in such a high profile position.
The Standing Orders Committee (SOC) came in for a fair bit of stick from many of the speakers in regards to motions that were either ruled out of order for one reason or another, the guidelines and criteria for entering motions for conference seems to be complex.
A delegate from our own branch made a great contribution to the debate on how managers have the ability to affect a social workers HCPC registration by making unfounded remarks or allegations about their work practice.
The motion that had a profound effect on me was the motion on Columbia and the battle to free Trade Unionist Huber Ballesteros who is the leader of the agricultural union Fensuargo. Huber was arrested by the military on false allegations of terrorist activities.
There was an address from Trade unionist leader Rosa Pavonelli who shared some of the horror stories of being a trade unionist in Columbia, it is the most dangerous place in the world to belong to a union, and it is common place for trade unionists to be beaten, kidnapped, Murdered and mutilated. These stories really brought home the reality of how easy we have it in the UK as activists. Would we still do what we do if every day our life would literally be in mortal danger? We must do all we can to help and support our colleagues in places like Columbia and that includes being affiliated as a branch to the campaign JUSTICE FOR COLUMBIA.
I had a great week at conference, it was long and busy with a lot to take in lots of paperwork, but now I have a better understanding of the process, I have been inspired by the stories of the bravest colleagues in Columbia and by the quality of the speeches and speakers I listened to with great interest. Ii will look forward to having the opportunity to go again if I am lucky enough to get a golden ticket.