Wednesday, June 14, 2023

UNISON National Delegate Conference 2023: Day 2 - Industrial Action Ballots: Composite D debate

Today I moved a composite motion on behalf of London and Eastern region, Private Contractors, North Northamptonshire LG & Newcastle Hospitals. 

The current NEC opposed the motion (despite previously supporting it) for in my view, pretty bizzare and self defeating reasons. However, the motion was defeated (notwithstanding some poor chairing of the debate). 

It was however, mostly a good debate, apart from some abusive remarks by a disaffected health delegate. Many thanks to the many delegates who spoke in favour. Below is my speech but to firstly sum up my right to reply to the debate:- 

I suggested that the real elephant in the room is that because of a lack of trust and confidence in the current NEC by key stakeholders across the union, we will have a barrier to wining future disputes until this changes. Obviously the NEC will change significantly on Friday due to the recent elections. 

"Conference, President, John Gray, Greater London Regional rep and about to become a newly elected NEC member for Community on Friday. Moving Composite D on Industrial Action Ballots.

Conference, all of us here are very proud of our members and branches who have taken industrial action in the past 12 months, despite Tory anti-trade union laws.

Conference, this is nothing new in our Labour movement history. Time and time again, Tory governments have passed anti-trade union laws to stop us defending our members. That is why the unions formed the Labour Party, in order to obtain legal protections, this is why I am looking forward this evening at 5.15pm, to welcome home the deputy Labour Leader, Angela Rayner MP, who will no doubt be speaking about the radical Labour plans for extending employment rights if they win power.

So we should thank activists, branches, convenor teams, service groups, SOGs and our staff for not only their hard work in delivering positive ballot results but also for using a combination of traditional methods such as face to face conversations but also using and developing new, different and innovative learning and practices.

We need to know how, post pandemic, with more workers working from home, branches were able to organise successful ballots and use home working tech to their advantage. This is the new era of trade unionism and we must be moving forward together.

During the recent ballots in health and HE, new technology such as peer to peer text messaging and online phone canvassing, made a huge difference, reaching members we would never be able to reach before. With branches like our own LAS in London, and NHS branches across the country, leading the way.

What to me is also really interesting about what happened is those branches that failed to get the 50% in the first ballot but who persevered and went on to organise a successful 2nd ballot and I look forward to hearing from some speakers during this debate who will tell their story and talk about how they learnt from their first ballot - because these are the lessons we must learn.

Conference, we need to support a motion that seeks to hear as many voices as possible, as our union seeks to rise to the challenge on beating the 50% threshold.

So what this composite calls for is for the NEC, to urgently, repeat urgently, gets a report on evaluating this new technology and how we can use it more widely in future organising and campaigning. This isn’t about working harder- it’s about working smarter.

But we must ensure that in this urgent review no one gets left behind, that regardless of which service group, self-organised groups, region or devolved nation, outsourced or community employer you are part of- everyone is heard.

Right now, everyone across the union has a view or an opinion of what works well and what doesn’t - we need to capture all of this, the NEC must look at the evidence before making decisions- checking out, for example, if virtual briefings or even modular learning can help “get the vote out” - or if we’re better off focussing on ground war techniques, we need to examine the evidence first to find out.

To me personally, the key outcome of this composite is that the NEC doesn’t go off and become a lone ranger on this crucial issue as it would be a wasted opportunity. Instead it involves and empowers, regions, service groups, self-organised groups and the NEC to come up with a collective response. It should urgently organise a review group involving all these absolutely key players. It does not impose its views but facilitate inclusivity. It is an absolutely cornerstone of our movement that “Collective is Best”.

This review can evaluate and quickly recommend next steps, look at what also works outside UNISON and learn, looking at it all in the round. We need to find out how to increase member participation nationally and regionally and again, Conference this work should begin as a matter of the upmost urgency. Anything else is just a distraction.

Finally conference, I have a personal stake in this. We are in dispute with my employer, Clarion Housing Group, over pay and pensions and are about to ballot for the first time ever on industrial action. It is going to be difficult not least because out of the 4000 staff only a handful of us at best have any experience of taking industrial action.

So conference please support this composite, let’s work together, lets learn, lets evaluate collectively and then come out fighting for our just demands. Conference, I move"

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