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:
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.
Additional amendment to 11.2 lost
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: