The sound of one hand clapping?

Jon Rogers

The increasingly prompt and comprehensive official reporting from UNISON NEC meetings continues today, with an entirely appropriate emphasis upon the key debate on the defence of public service pensions.

I will post my personal report here when I get it done but, in the mean time, will share another of those little episodes that makes the experience of life on the UNISON NEC occasionally surreal.

It’s all about “collective responsibility” and how it can be interpreted.

Fifteen years ago NEC members attending UNISON Conference (as we are individually entitled to by Rule) had the right to speak at the Conference (which is also in accordance with Rule). On rare occasions, NEC members would exercise their individual right to speak against the line of the majority of the NEC, as Roger Bannister did in 1997 in support of the Hillingdon Hospital strikers.

Since then, over the years, an ever more stringent interpretation of what is misdescribed as “collective responsibility” of the NEC has been adopted. First, NEC members were prohibited from speaking unless chosen to do so by the NEC and speaking in support of NEC policy (this is not supported by our Rule Book, but as the President formally decides who to call to speak at Conference, it has effectively been imposed).

Then, NEC members were prohibited from attending Conference as delegates from branches (so that they could not speak, in line with a branch mandate, in a way which might not support NEC policy). Because “collective responsibility” is for life, not just for Conference, NEC members are also now subject to a requirement, at meetings of the NEC, not to speak or vote against decisions taken by NEC Committees of which they are members.

Today however we were advised of a further development in UNISON democracy for National Delegate Conference 2011, as NEC members were advised by our President that loud applause from NEC members on the platform for speakers opposing the line of the NEC was a breach of “collective responsibility” and could lead to NEC members being stripped of their Conference credentials and sent home.

In the run up to a Conference at which the NEC is supporting virtually every motion and amendment on the agenda you might think this a bizarre and unjustifiable decision. I (as an NEC member allegedly bound by this strange concept of “collective responsibility”) could not possibly comment.

Perhaps for next year we could replace the NEC with a trained studio audience who can be relied upon to applaud in all the right places?