From the TUC

Going through the motions: A guide to the jargon of #TUC14 business

08 Sep 2014, By

TUC Congress 2014 has started in Liverpool, and until Wednesday you can catch it online via live stream on the TUC site.

However, when a group of people have been doing something for 146 years, the jargon that inevitably grows up around it can make things tricky for those who don’t have the full set of union-spotter badges.

Much of what you’ll see on telly is around keynote speeches given to the event, but these form a minority of the daily business. Formally, Congress is supposed to do two things – to receive the Report of the work of the General Council over the previous 12 months and to set TUC policy for the next year.

The first part forms the basis of the programme of business, with Congress called to approve chapters from the report, and given an opportunity to question them if delegates want to. Generally though, you’ll just hear the President read out chapter numbers, which get approved without contest, before moving on to the motions that relate to those issues for this year.

Now, exactly what is and isn’t a motion can get a bit confusing.

Motions are statements submitted to Congress by our affiliated unions, and by some of the TUC’s standing conferences. They attempt to define policy for the union movement on an issue, or to commit the TUC’s unions to a certain action.

The TUC’s 54 member unions submit the motions they want to see debated. They’re then entitled to submit amendments to each others’ (or their own) motions. The proposing union can choose to Accept or Not Accept an amendment. If it’s accepted, Congress votes on them as one unit. If not accepted, the motion and its amendment are voted on separately.

This list of motions and amendments is produced in a document known as the Final Agenda. Except it’s not actually ‘final’ – or what most of us would call an ‘agenda’, for that matter.

Sometimes several motions, or motions and multiple amendments are composited together into one bumper motion, where there’s considered to be enough agreement in what they all want (unions are big on consensus). Composites have a different set of numbering (eg C1, C2…), and because they can include several of the original motions, they can cause hiccups in the numbering process for other motions.

These new composite motions get compiled in a separate document, alongside the report of the General Purposes Committee – the group who work to organise the procedural side of the business of Congress.

Congress also often sees unions introducing emergency motions over the course of the event, where they relate to issues too topical for the longer term motion setting process. These get released and scheduled in as they’re approved by the General Council.

At Congress, the President calls speakers to speak for and against the motions and amendments. Each motion has a proposing speaker and a seconding speaker, and for bigger motions there are also supporting speakers who might be able to cover some of the issue from a particular perspective. Opponents are given a chance to speak, then a right of reply is offered to the original proposer (this is often waived if there’s no opposition). There’s then a show of hands to vote. If it looks close, a card vote can be called to check more precisely.

If motions are passed, they become TUC policy, and help set the priorities of the organisation and labour movement for the coming year. If you want to know whether a particular motion has passed, you can check the list of decisions on the TUC site.

But all this is only the last stage in the life of many motions. Unions often hold a similar process to determine which motions they will submit to Congress in the first place. A motion will often originate in a local branch of a particular union, going through a compositing and voting process at that union’s own national conference before moving on to the TUC. So if you want to see something on the stage at Congress 2015, get along to your branch meetings and make your case.

So, for your cut out and keep guide to following Congress 2014: