The national executive of the lecturers' union Natfhe received a rare boost from the annual conference for its plan to re-structure the union on the basis of direct branch representation.
An emergency motion calling on the national executive council to present proposals for direct representation to next year's conference was carried with only one region voting against. What a few months ago looked like a hopeless cause has now become mainstream. Such a change of attitude was even more remarkable since it occurred during conference itself following a well-attended fringe organised by the NEC.
Currently, Natfhe branches send delegates to regional councils and it is those councils that choose conference delegates. With attendances at regional councils reaching alarmingly low levels, fewer and fewer branches got a look in.
Changes in employment law and industrial relations in the past two decades have placed branches at the centre of union activities. This has put tremendous strains on structures which worked well pre-incorporation, but fell short of meeting the needs of today's stand-alone corporations. This strain was most evident in a recent ballot of branch members on an offer that was recommended by the NEC but rejected by sector conferences. The result was a whopping 2 - 1 majority in favour of the offer. That got the NEC thinking.
While such events triggered the current debate on structure, it was not and is not the motivation. The motivation has always been to enhance democratic participation and members' control. After all, it is their union.