Going through the motions

HOW THE BRANCH, and the union, conducts its business can sometimes seem quite arcane to newcomers. This summary hopes to guide you through how policies, motions etc are formulated at branch and national level and how you can play a part.

Branch motions

Any member of the branch can propose a motion asking it do something. All it needs is for a proposer and a seconder to put it before a quorate branch meeting. A vote of all full members present will then be taken, usually after a debate, and if passed the branch committee will then decide how to implement it.


Other members are free to propose amendments to motions, again provided they have a seconder. These are discussed and voted on before the vote on the original motion is taken. See www.londonfreelance.org/fl/business.html for more detail.

The NUJ's Delegate Meeting (DM)

The union's conference normally takes place every other Spring and is the sovereign policy-making body of the union. It comprises delegates from all the union's branches, each of which is allocated a number of delegate places depending on the size of the branch. These vote on DM's motions. These motions take the form of instructions to the union's National Executive Council (NEC) to carry out various policies or activities.

All branches are entitled to submit motions to DM - and so can the union's other main bodies such as the NEC and its various industrial and other councils, including the likes of Freelance Industrial Council, Equality, Ethics, Black Members' and Disabled Members' Councils. Only branch delegates are able too vote.

DM motions are usually submitted in the autumn - having been proposed, debated and passed in the normal way at branch or other council level.

Any full branch member can propose a DM motion in the form of a motion to the Branch, thus: "This Branch shall put to Delegate Meeting the motion that: [insert motion here]."

A preliminary agenda is then drawn up, so that branches and other bodies can propose amendments - both to their own motions and to those of others.

These are normally debated at the January meeting of the branch, where the branch delegation to the conference is elected. The January meeting also elects full Branch members to form its delegation to DM.

The branch delegation then meets after the final agenda is issued, with amendments and recommendations by Standing Order Committee (see below). The delegation proposes Branch attitudes to the motions being debated at conference. It may traditionally decide to support, oppose, support as amended (where amendments have been proposed), support only if amended, or listen to the debate at conference before deciding at the time. This last position is frequently advisable if the motion at hand is on a subject about which the union's delegation has little knowledge or experience - for example, if it affects mainly members in Ireland or Scotland.

The delegation's recommendations are put to the Branch meeting immediately before DM. Any Branch member may there propose a motion to Branch to "mandate" the delegation to vote a particular way on any motion (one of the above options, in general) .This motion may be in support of the delegation recommendation, or may put forward another view. If this motion is passed, the entire delegation shall vote at DM as decided.

In the case that the Branch thus decides to "listen", any delegation member may call at DM for a vote among the delegation, and the whole delegation then votes according the the majority view (see www.londonfreelance.org/lfb/rules.html#7).

(The background to all this Branch procedure is the bitter experience of attempts by two political factions, of the capitalist Right and the authoritarian Left, to hijack Branch policy in the 1970s. We retain it as a useful safeguard against it happening again.)

Standing Orders Committee recommends...

The conference's rules are fixed by Standing Orders Committee, which decides on whether motions are "in order", including whether they are "capable of implementation". SOC tends to insist that the imperative verb/object combination "instructs the NEC" is literally present at some point in every motion. No  motion taking away from NEC its power to decide individually on lawsuits and other legal processes will ever be in order.

In theory, SOC saying that a motion is out of order is merely a recommendation to DM. Delegates have a 40-millisecond window at the instant the "order paper" containing a motion so recommended is proposed to DM. If they yell the right formula at the right moment, DM may then vote on whether the motion is in fact in order.

SOC also oversees horse-trading between branches and motion- tabling bodies over motions on similar subjects. Sometimes motions on a similar subject, or which argue for similar policies, are composited - that is, merged into one text, to avoid conference becoming too repetitive. A composite may include only literal text from the component motions.

This can feel like a complicated, and even at times maddening, process but it's important to follow, not least, as noted, to prevent hijacking.

Updated April 2014 to take account of the frequency of Delegate Meetings stabilising as every two years, and to add full points.
[Site map] Updated 17 Apr 2014; posted 05 Apr 2008 - © 2008 contributors
The Freelance editor is elected by London Freelance Branch and responsibility for content lies solely with the editors of the time
Send comments to the editors: editor@londonfreelance.org