(This should have been published in the union magazine – but mysteriosuly never made it…)
Outside it’s the year 2007 but inside the Holiday Inn, Plymouth it must have been 1977 as the Biennial Conference debated the changes to the election of the union’s President and Executive Council. The General Secretary informed conference that if electing the President at Conference was good enough for the 1970s it’s good enough for now. As he said it, the Generalissimo was reminiscing that a lot of other things were big in the 1970s too – kipper ties, racism, football hooliganism and Stalinist workers states to name but a few. The German “Democratic” Republic had back-slapping annual conferences where business was debated but never actually challenged too. Without the efforts of the Generalissimo’s branch the changes might never have been debated.
Now, in theory, the Conference is your supreme policy making body and your branch delegates are your representatives at that body. But do you know what your branch delegates are actually up to? It might be worth asking them since the manner in which they vote doesn’t necessarily suggest that they are motivated by the membership as a whole!
The election of the President was one of only two opportunities that every member in the union gets to have a guaranteed, secret say in who runs it. The other, the election of the Executive Council, is forced on the union by law so cannot be changed, but they have done their best to reduce your scrutiny. How? Well, the subtlety of the change eluded a lot of delegates but essentially the ballot will now take place BEFORE the biennial conference – so the EC presenting reports on its work for the last two years is already secure in its posts for ANOTHER two years. So, when you re-elect them (if you get the chance because of the low number of candidates) you will only know by reputation their stewardship of the union.
What was even more bizarre, and very representative of a workers’ state was the lack of ANY coherent argument by the EC putting forward this shoddy change. From – “it costs too much” (the Presidential election) to “there’s a gap of six weeks in which we can’t do anything” (EC elections after conference). Well, there’s a gap of around six weeks between the Queen dissolving parliament and a general election – but the job of running the country still seems to get done. Certain of the Generalissimo’s contacts have suggested that it is to make the life of permanent officers easier by not having to bother with tiresome paperwork. So this is how democracy gets eroded…
By the time you read this, you will have heard from the Executive Council that one of the key personal benefits you had – the death benefit, has been withdrawn. This may come as a shock to many of you who are outside the bubble of activists and who were sold this as a key benefit to your union membership. If your branch never canvassed your opinion or told you about this move, and if you now want to make your voice heard then tell your branch officers – better still go straight to Head Office. You don’t have to be on a branch committee to be involved.