Friday 19 June 2009

National Delegate Conference Day 3

For some reason I seem to be more busy at National Conference than I ever was at Health conference, the vast numbers of fringe meetings is probably it and the carefully planned timetable I had is in tatters.

Still it's 5:30am on a sunny but cold looking morning here in Hove, here's the recap for yesterday's session.

The morning was taken up by international affairs. There was a rah-rah motion on Cuba, I didn't speak against it because unlike in the 2007 motion, it did not praise the undemocratic nature of the regime, merely celebrating that for a small, poor country, it's done remarkably well for it's citizens. That much is true and if only it were democratic too, I'm sure that the Socialists would win every time. But that being said, why do we need to discuss Cuba every year, the situation's not changed much, UNISON has a settled view on the blockade etc and it just wastes time we could spend on more important issues.

The second motion was on Palestine, again it's a motion we have every year and I did hear some delegates moan about it but this was more important as we do not have a settled policy on it. I gave the motion some thought and in the end decided to vote for the motion, which included a UNISON boycott of products produced in the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Why did I do that?

Well, there's a common view that there needs to be a two-state solution with one state being an expressly Jewish state (if you don't know why one needs to be a Jewish state, I refer you to the last eight centuries of anti-semitism, from Edward I's expulsion of the Jews from England right up to the shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC last week). That solution also needs a stable and viable Palestinian state. I feel that it is in both the interests of peace and the interests of Israel for Palestine to exist and be prosperous.

So the occupation of the West Bank is bad not only for the local population, but the illegal settlement of the best land makes Palestine which even on 1967 borders is pretty marginal in terms of viability even less likely to be a successful nation. UNISON wants to boycott the produce of those settlements, the idea being, if the boycott is successful, for those people who are settling for economic reasons will quit and bring their business back to Israel proper.

Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) were also unhappy with a passage in the motion calling for Israel to negotiate with Hamas, which as TUFI point out, are a vile, rascist, fascist organisation who UNISON really shouldn't align itself with. I don't think we are aligning with Hamas, but as I said at the TUFI fringe, you can't solve this problem without talking and just like we had to talk to the IRA, Israel will have to talk to Hamas. As trade unions are secular organisations, not Jewish or Islamic, we can be promoters of dialogue and I hope UNISON will take the small amount of influence we have in the situation seriously.

At the TUFI fringe Jon Pike, formerly of the UCU National Executive warned UNISON against following the path of the UCU and moving away from where our members are. That's a valid warning and so there will be lots of opportunity for UNISON Somerset Health branch members to make their views clear before this is (probably) debated again in Bournemouth next year.

The afternoon was spent on Rules Amendments. There were some rather technical rules change (4 & 17) which rules anoraks like me got very agitated about and hopefully we defeated (there was a card vote because the chair wasn't sure that there was the 2/3 majority required), and a group of others (13, 14 & 8) which I was okay with but were difficult to understand and therefore fell because delegates didn't know what the implications of them would be. The rules amendments that passed did the following changes to our service groups.
  • New service group (Community) moving members in the community and voluntary sectors from the Health and Local Government service groups and into their own
  • Merged service group (Water, Environment and Transport) which covers the old Water and Environment and the Transport service groups.
  • Renamed service group (Police and Justice) to reflect the probation service and Cafcass members moving from Local Government to join the Police Staff service group.
All good news and what the members concerned wanted.

There was a good fringe on building a rank and file caucus at lunchtime. We were all concerned at the fact that only 7% of members voted in this year's National Executive Council elections. My personal view is that we rely on the centre to initiate communications with members and moan about the centre not doing it instead of doing it ourselves. Communications tools like email, blogs and twitter have brought the cost down to pretty much nothing so we can and should do it ourselves.

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