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Conference 2012 Lynne Ahmad

2012 UNISON National Delegate Conference

Personal Delegate report

This year the conference was held in Bournemouth, a popular venue with the hundreds of delegates attending from the length and breadth of the UK.

Our General Secretary Dave Prentiss opened the conference with a practiced speech, and bravely told the conference that unison would be withholding support to the Labour Party if they did not ‘do better.  We also heard that since the coalition government has been in power 625 jobs per week have been lost.  He also promised swift legal advice for branches, which would expedite the indeterminate wait, that branches experience when they are trying to fight cases that require legal advice.  There are also to be an increase in ‘fighting fund’ officers put in place by the union to help branches (health branches only?) this was not clear.  It seems as if the emphasis and major muscle of the union is aligned to the health service branches of the union.

Unfortunately this year the conference was one of the least contentious and most predictable I have ever attended; very little meaningful debate with many issues being passed totally unopposed.  Even though a motion was unopposed and there were no speakers against the motion conference still listened to many speakers for the motion all in agreement with one another.  This meant that precious conference time was eaten into and many issues and valid motions put forward by branches were not heard because time ran out.  One motion did attempt to change this by proposing that no more that 5 speakers for the motion would be permitted, if the motion were unopposed.  Needless to say this valid motion fell and conference supported the status quo.  Conference felt that everyone who wanted to speak in support of a motion would be given the opportunity to tell his or her story.  Some speakers used this opportunity of speaking to a tame and agreeable audience in order to have a platform for their own agenda.  Some branches used this unashamedly to promote themselves over and over again, with self-congratulatory praise, seemingly to advance themselves as individuals or individual branches.  What happened to ‘one union’?

I do not mean to sound disillusioned but some of the most radical and forthright trade unionists from previous conferences now can be found on the ‘platform’.

The most astounding thing that happened during the conference was when one delegate tried to convince the conference and the NEC, that members who did not take part in strike action could be disciplined by the union!  What!  Thankfully the chair and a speaker on behalf of the NEC explained to the delegate that not only was this against the law but against the democratic principles of the union.

One motion ‘Bullying in the Workplace’ called for branches to ensure that employers have bullying and harassment policies adhered to.  This is an interesting situation for Harrow as it seems that the dignity at work suite of polices do not seem to be working well in favour of the individual employee.  The motion itself seemed to concentrate on women workers being the most likely to be bullied in the workplace, but I do not agree with this statement as I feel that bullying in the workplace is under reported by our male colleagues.  The motion asked branches to provide a steward/rep designated to tackle this problem.  Every unison representative, steward or officer should be equipped to challenge workplace bullying. Also, managers were targeted as the major culprits of bullying in the workplace, this I feel is an easy out for the unions and one designed to please the conference and gain cheap applause.  In my experience it is often co-workers who are the main protagonists and are not dealt with, but a blind eye turned by managers and unions who do not know how to deal with it.

There is no legal definition of bullying in the workplace and this makes it difficult to tackle the problem.  Although this should not make the employer frightened to deal with it swiftly and with sensitivity.

‘Women and the Cuts’, was another motion that passed, and speakers in favour of the motion stressed that low paid women workers were most at risk.  I personally felt that we should not just look at the plight of low paid women workers but support low paid workers in general whether they are men or women.  Another motion regarding the low paid delegate seat for women being changed to low paid member and that this seat often not filled by branch delegate teams because they cannot find a low paid women worker to attend (even though the union is 75% women membership), could give the vacant seat to a low paid male member.  Needless to say that this motion fell!  I would be the first to chain myself to the railings to win the vote for women, but what has happened to equality of the sexes?  One speaker described the male members of this union as being white middle class and middle aged; was she aware that she was describing our General Secretary!!!!

Please do not read this report and feel that conference is not worth the effort, we need new enthusiastic delegates to attend next year of behalf of Harrow Union.  Although a word of warning if you are not a member of a SOG (self organised group) you may feel as I did as if you had to apologise for not being so. The SOG’s do extremely good and important work, and we should be proud of that fact, but there are many other members who do not fit into these groups and deserve the same considerations.

Lynne Ahmad

(This report is a personal account of the Local Government Conference 2012 and the views expressed are not the views of the Harrow UNISON LG Branch Executive Committee)

Last Updated on Monday, 02 July 2012 12:52

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