Written for the December issue of the Oxford & District Branch NUJ newsletter.
When I set off for this year’s ADM, I had a jumble of different worries in my head. Would people be unfriendly to me as a newbie? Would it be a world of Machiavellian backstabbing, or a snooze-inducing bureaucratic slog? Would I have to actually stand up and speak?
I shouldn’t have worried about the welcome. From the very start, everyone I met was very friendly. But the frantic pace of business (debating and voting on motions submitted by branches) was a big surprise. If you want to follow everything that’s going on, you need to stay alert. As well as keeping track of the motion being debated, the amendments to that motion and who’s speaking in favour of what, you have to keep a watchful eye on the screens behind the speakers, which periodically call delegates into a different room for ‘horse-trading’. That’s where the real business gets thrashed out; people who’ve submitted a motion, and the people who’ve submitted amendments to that motion, and the people who’ve submitted other amendments which may or may not contradict the previous amendments, sit together trying to come up with a coherent compromise for ADM to vote on.
The fast pace allowed ADM to discuss and vote on a large number of motions, some more important and controversial than others. In fact, I should stop calling it ADM right now, because we voted to amend the rules so that these conferences are no longer required to be annual. The next one is in eighteen months’ time, so it should really be called a DM, even if one delegate did complain that it sounds like a shoe. We also voted to increase member subs: not something anybody wanted to do, but necessary to repair the union’s finances.
Other memorable debates covered gender-balanced quotas for NUJ positions, the future of the Journalist, BBC coverage of the Gaza conflict and whether or not we should report on the BNP. But even the boring motions deserved – and got – attention, because our votes determine what the NUJ does in the next year and beyond.
What goes on at ADM is the democratic process for the NUJ; ADM is the sovereign body of the union and what we say goes. That’s why I was so happy to see Oxford punching above its weight in terms of delegate numbers. As a regional branch we were allowed three delegates, so I went along with Peter Cann (branch chair) and Anna Wagstaff (secretary). But Oxford was also represented by Bill McKeith (representing the Magazines and Books Industrial Council), Jim Boumelha (president of the International Federation of Journalists) and John Lister (working hard on the Standing Orders Committee). Next time I hope there will be new people to represent Oxfordshire.
Would I do it again? Yes – but I’d do some things differently. I would read the agenda and supplementary paperwork well in advance, to give myself a fighting chance of keeping up. I would stay in a hotel rather than staying with relatives as I did this time. (It was great in some ways to combine union and family things, but I missed out on a lot of the fringe events and socialising.) And, most of all, I would relax more. ADM isn’t really scary for new delegates; in fact, the newer you are, the warmer the welcome. I hope that by the time the next ADM – sorry, DM – rolls around in April 2011, there will be plenty of new people to enjoy that welcome.