Friday 10 July 2015

Unite Rules Conference - day four (updated)

Note: This report has been updated following receipt of the official record of decisions.

The main excitement of the day was conference overturning the Executive Council over Gibraltar.  NR/4 created an Area Activist structure called the "Gibraltar Committee" for elected representatives from companies, sectors and branches based in Gibraltar.  The Committee will elect an observer delegate to the Executive Council.

Motion 15/2 introduced fixed 5-year terms for the General Secretary, preventing any repeat of the controversy of the election being called early to re-elect Len McCluskey. (The next GS election is due in 2018).

Motions 12/13 and 13/8 both sought to mandate electronic voting for union conferences.  They were remitted to the EC on the basis of a commitment that electronic voting would be used in future for close votes, but not for every vote because it slows down proceedings where the result of clear from a show of hands.

The "enabling motion" empowers the EC to make changes to the rulebook required to reconcile all the motions passed into a tidy and consistent new rulebook.  We are likely to have to wait some time to see the result.

13/3 withdrawn
13/4 lost
13/5 lost
13/2 withdrawn
13/10 lost
15/2 carried
15/3 lost
8/1 carried
8/2 lost
8/3 withdrawn
8/4 lost
8/5 withdrawn
4/1 carried
4/2 lost
4/3 fell
4/4 carried
4/5 lost
4/6 carried

NR/4 carried
28/1 fell

12/14 carried
13/12 carried
6/9 lost
12/5 lost
NR/7 lost
12/13 remitted
13/8 remitted
13/9 withdrawn
NR/8 withdrawn
Rule 14 (organising fund) withdrawn
Enabling motion carried

Thursday 9 July 2015

Unite Rules Conference - day three

The main excitement on Wednesday was motion 2/1 from the Executive Council, which removed "so far as may be lawful from rule "2.1 The objects of the Union shall, as far as may be lawful, be:".  Len McCluskey gave a great speech arguing why it was right to break unjust laws, even when passed by an elected government:

This is not the first time Len has made such arguments, but it is nonetheless very important that he does.  Not only do we face further attacks from the Tory government on workers' right to strike, but this forms part of a wider attack on the right to protest, on privacy against surveillance, and on access to justice.  His speech will be welcomed not only by many trade unionists, but by many campaigners engaged in direct action who often face vilification in the press and from politicians.

However, we shouldn't get carried away.  Given the rarity of effective strike action even when it is legal, it would be naive to expect Unite's leadership to readily lead more if it becomes more difficult.  Whether workers respond to new anti-union laws by trying to comply with ludicrous ballot requirements, or with action outside laws designed to make their action ineffective, both require strong workplace organisation.

It's amusing to remember the fierce opposition from Len and the EC when Gill George proposed essentially the same rule amendment at the previous Rules Conference.

Motions 9/1 and 14/1 strengthened the Young Members structures and put the qualifying age back to "up to and including the age of 27" rather than 30 from the 2018/21 electoral cycle.

Motion 6/1 clarified that members who lose eligibility for lay office may continue to serve their term of office and required the EC to establish a right to recall over members holding lay office.

A supplementary amendment to rule 6 added new clauses to bar from lay office members recruiting to other unions or who hadn't paid 13 weeks' subs. The EC assured conference that this would not affect members directing workers to join other unions in multi-union environment or joint campaigns, or members in newly organised workplaces.

17/1 clarified the operation of (the very few) national industrial branches and requires branches to hold at least four meetings a year.

17/8 changes the timescale for branch elections to January to March.

Motions 11/8 and 11/9 both sought to stop the union running its equality conferences in parallel on the same days, which limits activists who might have more than one oppression contributing to more than one conference.  Both were remitted to the EC on the basis of assurances that the issue would be looked at.  Conference was told that the decision on timing currently rests with the equality committees, who saw benefit of meeting on the same days as this enabled people to meet and discuss across the equality strands.

I was surprised by some of the gaps in the debate.  In recent years there has been a new wave of interest among young people, and especially on campuses, in fighting oppression.  The concept of "intersectionality" has been central to this revival.  Intersectionality is a recognition that multiple oppressions don't simply "add up" but that they interact - for example the stereotypes and prejudices affecting Muslim women are not the same as those affecting white Christian women - and this is not simply "sexism plus racism".  So in order to build the strongest and most united movement, it is particularly important to include people whose experience of one oppression is shaped by their experience of others.  The concept of intersectionality did not feature in the debate at all - it was framed much more in the older (and less unifying) concept of "identity".  Unless Unite finds a way to respond to the dominant ideas amongst young feminists in particular, it will struggle to engage with the vibrancy and radicalism that has been so encouraging in recent years.

Motion 11/7 sought to explicitly include Eastern Europeans in Unite's BAEM structures. This was remitted to the EC with a clear recognition of the racism faced by East Europeans. Latin Americans are already included in the BAEM structures.

Conference rejected a dreadful motion 12/6 from a Rolls Royce nuclear branch which sought to give every sector a veto on union policies that detrimentally impact their members. As one delegate put it, such a rule would have meant we couldn't have opposed hanging if we had members working as hangmen.

9/1 carried
9/2 withdrawn
14/1 carried
14/3 withdrawn
14/7 fell
14/8 withdrawn
14/9 withdrawn
14/10 withdrawn
6/1 carried
6/3 withdrawn
6/5 withdrawn
6/2 lost
6/6 withdrawn
6/7 withdrawn
6/8 lost
6/10 lost
6/11 carried
6/12 lost
6S carried
14/9 fell
16/9 withdrawn
17/1 carried
17/3 lost
17/5 withdrawn
17/6 withdrawn
17/2 lost
17/4 lost
17/7 lost
17/8 carried
17/9 lost
17/10 lost
17/11 carried
2/1 carried
NR/5 remitted
NR/6 remitted
11/1 carried
11/2 withdrawn
11/3 remitted
11/4 lost
11/5 lost
11/6 remitted
Additional amendment to 11.2 lost
11/8 remitted
11/9 remitted
11/7 remitted
11/10 withdrawn
12/9 remitted
12/10 remitted
13/6 remitted
7/1 carried
7/2 carried
7/3 withdrawn
7/8 lost
7/4 carried
7/5 remitted
7/7 lost
12/1 carried
12/4 lost
12/11 fell
12/6 lost
12/7 lost
12/12 lost
12/15 withdrawn
13/1 carried

After conference closed we were encouraged to join a local protest outside Brighton town hall against the Tory budget.  Though Unite's presence added a lot to the demonstration, I was disappointed at how few delegates (and even fewer EC members) took part.  We missed a real opportunity to showcase Unite's opposition to austerity to people in Brighton.  It was left to a lay activist to provide the posters to ensure we made a visible impact:

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Unite Rules Conference - day two

Tuesday's business was less contentious than Monday's, but covered a wide range of issues.

In the debate on retired members, Assistant General Secretary Steve Turner clarified that "Executive Statements", if passed, do actually change rules - it is up to the Executive Council to work out exactly how - after Rules Conference.  Personally I think this is a strong argument against EC statements - it would be much better if the EC actually put forward the specific rule changes they want so that delegates can consider and vote on them.

Executive Statement 3 means that the Retired Members' National and Regional Committees can each submit one motion to Policy and Rules Conferences.  Each Region can nominate one Retired Member as an observer to conference, with speaking rights.  Motion 10.1 clarified that triennial Regional Retired Members' Conferences are for "retired members plus" members who are officers in any type of branch.  It also gave the National Committee for Retired Members the right to elect a lay chair and coordinator.  Motion 15/1 decided that (non-paying) "ordinary" retired members are not eligible to vote in General Secretary elections.

Motion 14/4 means that all EC nominees will have the same access to information about and access to union bodies.  14/6 overturned the EC to say that there must be an audit of sector membership at the September EC meeting and those figures used to determine EC election constituencies for the following year.  Conference overturned the EC to pass 14/20 which means EC members can't act as "Stand Down Officers" during their term of office.  14/13 means that EC by-elections only take place during the first two years of a term - any vacancies after that would be filled by an observer elected by the relevant national or regional committee.

Conference overturned the EC to pass 19/4 and set up a national access fund to provide support such as sign language interpreters as required by deaf and disabled members to access branch meetings, national meetings and other union events.

Conference overturned the EC to pass 21/1 which harmonises expenses between constitutional committees, branches, education etc.  I think this is likely to mean the EC reviewing the expenses regime generally, to avoid incurring a lot of extra costs.

NR/2 gave significant autonomy to the Scottish region (within Unite Rules and Policy) and created more substantial structures in Scotland to support that.  Contrary to some press reports, the motion does not mean that the Scottish region can take decisions on political disaffiliation / disaffiliation.

Gold medals were awarded to John Keenan, Bob Sullivan and Bob Fulton (who wasn't well enough to attend), members from Rolls Royce East Kilbride who had organised the blacking of aero engines from Chile after Pinochet's coup - solidarity which gave life-saving hope to people in concentration camps on the other side of the world.

You can watch the short video about the boycott that was shown at conference.

Rule change 27/1 on member discipline established an Appeals Committee elected from Policy Conference to hear appeals against disciplinary sanctions imposed by the EC.  Conference agreed that for the year until Policy Conference, the Appeals Committee will be constituted by one person nominated from each Regional Committee, subject to the usual proportionality requirements.

22/10 lost
23/1 fell not moved
22/12 carried
22/13 withdrawn
22/1 carried
NR/1 carried
3/1 carried
3/4 withdrawn
3/5 fell
3/6 lost
Executive Statement 3 carried
10/10 withdrawn
10/11 fell
10/12 fell
10/13 fell
12/2 fell
12/3 withdrawn
13/7 fell
13/11 lost
14/5 fell
16/9 fell
10/1 carried
15/1 carried
6/4 fell
10/2 fell
10/3 fell
10/4 fell
10/5 fell
10/6 withdrawn
10/7 fell
10/8 fell
10/9 fell
27/1 carried
27/3 lost
27/4 lost
27/5 lost
27/6 fell
27/7 fell
27/8 fell
27/9 fell
14/4 carried
14/6 carried
14/11 withdrawn
14/12 lost
14/14 lost
14/18 withdrawn
14/20 carried
16/1 lost
14/13 carried
16/6 lost
16/7 lost
16/8 lost
16/14 lost
16/15 lost
16/16 withdrawn
16/18 withdrawn
16/20 carried
16/2 lost
16/4 remitted
16/5 lost
16/10 fell
16/20 carried
16/2 lost
16/4 remitted
16/5 lost
16/10 fell
16/11 carried
19/1 carried
19/2 fell
19/3 withdrawn
19/4 carried
21/1 carried
NR/2 carried
NR/3 withdrawn
Interim appeals committee constitution - carried

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Unite Rules Conference - day one

Most of the contentious business was crammed into day one.

It started lively, with conference decisively supporting my move to reject the Executive Council's undemocratic Standing Orders. Despite knowing in advance that the challenge was coming the leadership had no "plan B" prepared in case they lost the vote. Chaos and confusion reigned and eventually conference was adjourned until Len McCluskey came back with acceptable Standing Orders.  This was important not just for this year, but because they will be the starting point for future conferences.

Much of the debate on rule change motions submitted by branches and committees was overshadowed by Executive Statements which conference would have to reject in order to vote on many of the other motions.

There were debates on how some/all officers and senior staff should be elected or appointed. Conference rejected all the proposals, backing the EC's stance that it should continue making all officer appointments, that the General Secretary should be able to move them around rather than being linked to particular constituencies, and the General Secretary should appoint staff.

I'm a supporter of electing officers and making them accountable to particular lay committees. I thought there were two interesting points from the debate. Firstly, a view that frequent contested elections is a distraction and a cause of division and weakness, rather than an opportunity to engage and politically engage members. Secondly, a desire for centralisation of power within the union to allow it to operate coherently despite the centrifugal forces operating in a general union with sectors with different needs and priorities.

The other big debate was on the Labour Party. Conference decisively supported the EC statement which largely defended the status quo.  The debate was hugely influenced by Jeremy Corbyn's candidacy and the EC's decision to back him. Some who had felt the general election marked the end of the road for Labour argued this gave Labour another "last chance". To win the EC position, Len had to stress his commitment to recall Rules Conference if the situation with Labour changed, which I argued it will.

Rule amendments made by the EC since last Rules Conference were ratified
1/1 carried
3/2 carried
14/2 carried
30/1 carried
EC Statement 1 carried
7/6 fell
12/8 fell
14/7 fell
15/4 fell
15/5 fell
16/3 fell
14/15 withdrawn
14/16 lost
18/1 carried
18/2 fell
18/3 lost
18/4 carried
18/5 carried
EC statement 2 carried
2/2 fell
2/3 fell
2/4 fell
22/2 fell
22/3 fell
22/4 fell
22/5 fell
22/6 fell
22/7 fell
22/8 fell
22/9 fell not moved
22/11 fell not moved
SOC elected for Rules Conference 2019:
EM: Raffiq Moosa
Ireland: Frances Hourihane
LE: Bruce Swann
NEYH: Dave Allen
NW: Ian Bruce
Scotland: Shirley Johnston
SE: Stewart Dack
SW: Lynsey Wall
Wales: Julie Evans
WM: Barry Hartshorn

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Stop the power grab at Unite Rules Conference

Unite's leadership is engaged in an anti-democratic power grab and delegates need to be ready to put a stop to it.

Unite's Rules Conference starts on Monday and delegates have been sent a 160 page book of motions to change our rule book.  The sheer number of motions from our Executive Council (EC) is striking.  I understand that all or nearly all of these motions were not in fact proposed to the EC by its elected lay members, but rather by the full-time "executive officers" - of which Len McCluskey is the only elected member.

So far, so typically top-down.  But things get rapidly worse when you see the draft Standing Orders that the EC intends to propose to the Rules Conference.  There's a shiny new Standing Order 8.2 which we've never needed before.  It says:

"Should a Motion to amend the Rules submitted by the Executive Council be included in any grouping of Motions it shall be voted upon first and, if carried, all other Motions in that group shall fall. In any reply, the EC speaker shall speak at the conclusion of the debate." [my emphasis]
As the EC have submitted motions to loads of the groups, this means that unless conference rejects this Standing Order or votes down most of the EC's rules motions (most of which are harmless enough) then most of the motions from branches and constitutional committees will be tossed out without conference having the chance to vote on them.

It's worth being clear that this proposed new approach is far worse than the (bad enough) "Executive Statement" ruse that has become so popular for dodging contentious issues at Policy Conference.  In the past conferences still got the chance to vote on motions even if they passed an EC statement, unless the SOC and Chair decided that the subject matter of the motion was completely covered by the statement.  The old approach already gave the EC massive power over conference, as they can submit EC statements after seeing all the motions, where other bodies have to do it months in advance, and they get the last right of reply and the first vote.  The proposed new approach would give the EC the right to knock out motions which are unrelated to their own, as long as they are in the same grouping.

Rule 12.10 gives the EC the right to "draft the standing orders".  Delegates will be presented with a draft.  If they value their right to decide on motions for themselves rather than having them tossed out by the EC (which all too often means unelected executive officers), delegates should not accept the proposed standing orders without a change.  Better still, lobby your EC members to fix this before it is presented to conference.  Don't rely on any message to EC members sent via the General Secretary ever reaching them - you need to contact them directly.  Does our leadership really want to start conference by getting into a fight with delegates?