The ill-defined threat of legal jeopardy dominated speeches at Unison conference (15-20 June), far more than the subject of the national pay dispute.
At Local Government Conference two emergency motions on the pay dispute were ruled out of order on the ground that they might place the union in legal jeopardy.
Given they were not printed on the agenda and no detail was allowed in appeals to the Standing Orders Committee from submitting branches, delegates were left with no idea what legal jeopardy the union was facing.
Lambeth UNISON delegate Jon Rogers requested the conference went into private session so delegates could discuss the pay dispute frankly. That was rejected.
Those delegates who obtained back-alley copies of the unprintable motions were somewhat surprised — they simply contained suggestions that the union made a mistake in not seeking take academy schools out at the same time, requests to co-ordinate action with health and a call to plan strategy including action short of strike action to ensure momentum was not lost.
At National Delegate Conference, legal jeopardy issue arose again. A motion from Tower Hamlets Unison on industrial action to fight cuts in jobs and services and a motion on violence against women, already passed by Women’s conference were both ruled out of order on grounds of potential legal jeopardy. The motion on violence against women, had already been incorporated into UNISON policy!
The SOC informed delegates that if the motion had included an additional carriage return then the motion could have been allowed on the agenda!
Legal jeopardy has been used for many years to silence key debates at conference against the left, but this year against National Women’s Conference, Eastern Region and National Women’s Committee.
Union activists need to campaign on the principle of over-cautious treatment of the law. These laws are not our laws. We should call on our union to listen to members not lawyers and uphold the right to debate the policy and strategy of our union.