Following a meeting of the union’s NEC last week PCS has announced announced that this year’s conference (groups and national) due to be held in Brighton this year has been cancelled. The website explains the decision in this way:
The NEC also agreed that it would not be possible to go ahead with our conferences in May, the expected time of peak infection rates. The NEC will keep under review how we will facilitate democratic decision making during this period and plans to meet regularly.
After the debacle a few years back when the NEC cancelled elections, which I blogged about extensively (e.g., here and here) members will have the necessity of an annual meeting under the union’s rules in mind. Principle Rule 7of union rules requires that “A Delegate Conference (other than Special Delegate Conferences) shall be held annually.” The decision to cancel the meeting is probably means that that requirement is breached. I say probably because if a conference were to be held before 1 January 2021 I can see that there is an argument that there had still been an annual conference.
The union does have some basis for movement. Rule 11.2 of the rules state that
Where the NEC considers that by reason of industrial action, force majeure or other cause beyond the Union’s control, or in case of emergency, any time limit specified in the Union’s Rules cannot be fulfilled, the NEC may notwithstanding any provisions in the Union’s Rules change such times as it considers necessary.
I assume that it is on the basis that the Covid-19 pandemic is a force majeure that is the basis of the cancellation. Unlike the previous election suspension (which was another way of saying cancellation) this does clearly relate to an exceptional circumstance in which the union is making changes in order to protect member health and safety and that justifies the decision taken, at least insofar as cancellation of the physical conference in Brighton. I am less convinced that there is no alternative conference proceedings possible such that the force majeure means no technological alternative to a physical conference is possible but it is said mass communication is being investigated.
But even then, the demands on the union’s services are unprecedented at the moment and so, rightly, the focus should be on the health, safety, and wellbeing of members but this cannot be an excuse to avoid scrutiny and I sincerely hope the union introduces some measures to push through new initiatives, even if they’re not perfect. It seems feasible that even if motions cannot be moved, seconded and actually debated they can potentially be voted on electronically as they are written by branches (or even, more radically, directly by members themselves) such as to allow democratic scrutiny.
It will be interesting to see how this develops.
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