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Sunday, June 18, 2006


The little box that collects the card votes for big decisions

I have been going to my union’s Local Government and National Delegate Conferences for a few years now. I know that sometimes a lot of hot air is expelled and motions are debated and passed that in reality will never put an end to world poverty, end discrimination or whatever, but they are well intentioned and do inform debate. There have often been decisions made though that can have a significant impact on improving the lot of union members.

This year the union is in the middle of the biggest industrial dispute the country has seen since the 1926 General Strike, over the Government’s attack on our pension scheme. So when a whole afternoon session was set aside to discuss pensions, I anticipated a vibrant healthy debate that would send shivers down the spine of the Government. Speakers skipped lunch to get in the queue to speak and the scene was set.

The main problem is, although we called off industrial action in March because there was an ‘offer’ on the table, in reality it was not actually an offer, just something to discuss and the employers side are trying to force a compromise that will lead to existing members of the pension scheme worse off and new joiners to be well and truly shafted.

If I recall rightly, two speakers got up and urged a return to industrial action to ‘sharpen the minds’ of the negotiators and two got up to urge patience and let the negotiators get on with it in their own time. Next to speak was a mate of mine from my branch who was in no doubt that we should get back to picketing as soon as possible, which was the feeling of the whole of the Welsh delegation.

Then out of no-where, up pops some guy to the ‘point of order’ microphone and states “I move that the question be put”. This is quite a valid tool when a debate has gone on for too long or if there is a huge line of speakers for a motion and no one against and the debate is just eating into time that could be used for other motions. But to move a point of order so early in the most important debate this union has ever seen was outrageous. As point of order guy went back to his seat, he looked at my mate in the queue and said, “F*ck off Trot”; Pete can be called many things, but Trotskyite is not one of them.

There was then a massive row over whether or not the debate should continue, it went to a vote and for me it was close enough to decide it should go on, but the President decided that the debate was over.

So it was time to vote, it was too close to call, so it went to a card vote, and the vote went in favour of continuing the suspension of action… by 19,000 votes. 19,000 is nothing, it is two or three branches, it is two or three people in the bog or having a cigarette outside. A lot of people were angry, especially those of us from the Wales region, we felt that the whole thing had been manipulated by the National Executive Council and it set the scene for the rest of the week.

Looking at it positively it has sent a message to the employers that there are a lot of members keen to go back on strike and they should not take us lightly; looking at it negatively there are an awful lot of branches out there without the bottle for a fight. Whichever way you look at it there was a disturbing new trend towards interference from the NEC.


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