The TUC's General Council has seats for big unions, seats for small unions, some seats elected by Congress, some nominated by the unions themselves. It also has 'equalities seats' for women, black workers, lesbian/gay/bisexual/trans workers and disabled workers.
The TUC also holds annual Conferences for these sections of workers - rightly so, as without them, important equaltities issues would never see the light of day, and workers who face discrimination would be left waiting for the Congress House suits to act on our behalf and would therefore be waiting a long time indeed.
You might think that the equality conferences would elect the equality seats on the General Council, but no. Instead, TUC Congress elects them. Which means, in effect, they are horse-traded between various General Secretaries and owe their seats - and therefore their allegancies - to union bureaucrats rather than to the activists of their constituency.
All four equalities conferences have passed policy that the General Council seats should be elected by those conferences rather than by Congress. Of course, Congress itself would have to vote through that change, and like the lumbering brontosaurus that it is, the trade union bureaucracy is not about to relinquish any of the seats under its patronage to be accountable to rank-and-file members. Oh no no no.
Nevertheless, the voices of progress and democracy soldiered on and put the proposal to Congress. And although we lost, we got a good-sized vote, and as Billy Hayes said, this issue won't go away, it will come back again and again until it is passed.
Proposing, Manny Blake from the CWU explained that it was all about self-organisation and accountability. Sections such as the Black Workers want to hold their representatives to account, put pressure on them to raise issues, and get rid of them if they don't.
Seconding, NATFHE's Mary Davis got a big cheer when she told the truth about how General Council votes are stitched up.
UNISON - which for years has portrayed itself as the great authority and champion of equality issues - opposed the proposal on the breathtakingly arrogant grounds that their union hasn't made its mind up, so the rest of the movement isn't allowed to debate it yet. This could possibly be a argument for abstaining - albeit a very weak one. It is a nonsense argument for voting against.
CWU General Secretary Billy Hayes does not always impress me when he speaks (and frequently disappoints in his leadership of industrial disputes). But on this occasion, he spoke very well, explaining to all the other ageing white male bureaucrats in the room why they should wake up and why self-organisation is at the heart of labour movement democracy - "none so fit to break the chains as those who wear them".
NASUWT opposed, despite, they said, their great "sympathy" for equality causes. Funny, I don't recall the equality conferences asking for sympathy - they asked for representation.
The Brendan Barber wrapped it all up by explaining why the General Council opposed the resolution. (He didn't mention that it might be because some of them could lose their seats if it was passed!) Two of his arguments were particularly spurious. One, that the General Council is currently accountable to Congress - oddly, I haven't witnessed a lot of this accountability this week in Brighton. And secondly, that not all unions send delegates to the equality conferences so the election would not be representative enough. Believe me, if the equality conferences elected General Council members, all the unions would make sure they had people there!
My union, RMT, was originally going to oppose the resolution, a decision of the Council of Executives which I thoroughly disagree with. But the delegation saw the light midway through Congress and reversed its stance. Well, maybe it saw the light, or maybe there was something more dodgy going on behind the scenes. Either way - result.
The make-up of the General Council shifted to the right with RMT General Secretary Bob Crow being voted off in favour of Tim Poil, reported to be a 'moderate'. Your can read the results for that section of the Council here. Other 'awkward' lefties Matt Wrack (FBU) and Joe Marino (Bakers' Union) failed to get elected.
In other sections, the status quo prevailed. Particularly disappointing was that Maria Exall did not get elected to the LGBT seat, though frankly, no-one actually expected her to, and one-and-a-half million votes is pretty good! Still, I might have felt better about that if the RMT had managed to vote for Maria, but our Executive got it wrong on that one (in my personal opinion, of course!).