Branch member Lynn Degele shares her experience of attending DM for the first time.
In April this year, I attended the NUJ’s Delegates’ Meeting (DM) as a first-time delegate. Initially I had been signed up to attend as an observer, and due to a last-minute change in circumstances, had the opportunity to attend as a delegate instead.
DM was four days packed with new experiences and opportunities. On the Friday, in front of 200 delegates, I stood up to speak on a motion that I particularly believed in, and introduced myself: “Lynn Degele, Oxford branch, first-time delegate and newly appointed to the Disabled Members Council.”
On Thursday evening before the first day of motions, there had been an introductory session for first-time delegates. I’m glad I attended; it gave me the opportunity to see the whole before the DM proper started, and I learned a phrase that I would hear throughout the conference – “I’m a first-time delegate.” DM is welcoming to members attending for the first time and this is always greeted with a round of applause by all in the room.
On arrival in Southport on our first day, we collected our lanyard, and the Final Agenda, along with all our paperwork. Our branch had already submitted motions earlier in the year, so they were fairly familiar to me, but it took some time on day one to put all the pieces together. I now understand how DM works, and considering we got through 180 motions which will set the priorities of the NUJ for the next two years, over the course of two and a half days, I consider it an extremely effective meeting.
The entire weekend was fascinating. I was interested in the motions put forward by branches, and how they were debated. The two rostrums at the front of the hall had three coloured lights to indicate how much time each speaker had to put forward their points. The traffic light system of green–yellow–red help to keep the speakers conscious of time, and to provide space for other delegates to line up to have their say on themes that move them to speak. Some motions were more contentious than others, and attracted greater numbers of speakers.
Each motion put forward needed to be officially seconded and, once discussed, voted on to carry and be passed, or to fall. Partway through the first day, I began to understand how the 180 motions had been collated together under specific themes, as one of 15 “Order Papers”, such as Health & Safety, or Ethics.
One of the reasons DM was able to work through all of these is because strict timing is allocated to Order Papers, and if time runs out the President moves onto the following Order Paper. Whilst the pace can seem breath-taking, it keeps things moving and allows for discussion as well as voting.
Voting on motions was another new experience for me. An extendable lanyard is held up to indicate the vote in favour or against, and you could hold up your fellow branch delegate’s lanyard on their behalf if they needed to step out to attend to matters.
Usually, the voting results were fairly clear on the outcome of each motion. If it’s not, the delegates can vote a second time. If the outcome is still unclear however after a second vote on a motion, the “scrutineers” would be called in. The scrutineers are objective vote counters who tally votes by hand, to double-check the outcome when voting results are close. They are not used lightly – a scrutineered vote involves locking the hall doors whilst voting takes place, with tally sheets to count each individual vote, all of which takes time.
It wasn’t all serious, though, with two evenings of entertainment, including an 80s theme night and quiz, to raise funds for the George Viner and NUJ Extra funds, two NUJ initiatives to support members. This was followed on the Saturday night with a gala night raffle and disco, which was an opportunity to mingle with other delegates, at the table and on the dancefloor, until the midnight hour.
I found the entire experience exhilarating, to be involved in making decisions about future direction of the NUJ, and even to meet members from as far away as Brussels and Paris. I would certainly attend again – just a pity we have to wait until 2020!