January 14th, 2013

Fair Trade

Master and Commander

A few of you know that Amnesty International UK recently held an EGM. But why? Isn't it groovy and great and lovely? No, it's no! AIUK is £2.5m in deficit because the International Movement want a higher percentage of the money the section takes and also because for the last 4 or 5 years it's been predicting 6% growth. (1)

Yes, I know. Mental.

To do this the AIUK board have announced job losses and a restructuring that most people feel will result in a shift from AIUK being about campaigning, activism and fundraising and instead focus very much on the fundraising side. These fears were confirmed when the newly proposed, money saving structure was announced. With around 75 jobd at risk and 24 redundancies guaranteed, a grand total of 2 came from brands and events. Everyone in below management in Campaigns was put at risk, with no room for their programs.

Agree or disagree with this move, it's hard to see it as anything other than a huge change in direction for AIUK. It even came with a re-branding of mission statement and vision.

During my time at AIUK I listened to it's Chief Executive defend the decisions to create redundancies because of the democratic way this decision to move closer had come about. That word seemed very important. Democratic.

So, what did she mean? These decision was reached at a vote held in 2009 by the International Committee. This is a group of people made op of between 1 - 5 members from each section, depending on size. In 2009 there were almost 400 people in attendance. (2) And it's these people who made the democratic decision to increase AIUKs contributions from 30% to 40%.

On Saturday around 500 people attended AIUKs first ever EGM, and there were a further 2,000 proxy votes received. (I believe this to be the number, though that's from unconfirmed sources.)

So, how did that go?

Just for a start, those who argued against the boards decisions were likened to members of UKIP or as communists trying to hold back progress.

This is shocking, absolutely shocking!

There were seven resolutions(3) all designed to stop the direction the AIUK board is currently taking the UK section is taking. So, how did the membership vote?

Resolution 1: in favour 87%
Resolution 2: in favour 71.3%
Resolution 3: in favour 82%
Resolution 4: in favour 74.66%
Resolution 5: in favour 68.8%
Resolution 6: in favour 78.8%
Resolution: 7: in favour more than 75%

(At an EGM you need to have a 75% vote in your favour to pass a resolution.)

Amnesty International has more then 3 million members. (4)
Amnesty International UK has 250,000 members (Number from memory)

So, 3m represented by the votes cast by 400 people, as opposed to 250,000 represented by the votes of 2,500. As an aside it's going to be interesting hearing the 'democracy' argument next time it's trotted out.

Now, the board has standing orders: 'The Board shall review the overall position of the Section and interpret the policy of the Section as decided by General Meeting and arrange for the Director to implement it.'

Loosely interpreted this could mean that despite no mandate on some of these resolutions the board can clearly see where the majority of the membership stood and should go along with the lot. But I admit they don't have to do that.

However, it is obvious to ANYONE that enough of the membership of the UK Section have serious misgivings about what's happening in their orginisation. This is despite the board having the opportunity to sell these changes since May. They tried. Members of the Senior Management Team went out around the country to talk directly to the membership, in addition to sending out emails and updates. The staff who oppose these changes (the vast majority of staff) are unable to contact membership using the information at work. Which is fair enough. I also heard of key activists receiving phone calls in the run up to the AGM. Additionally, the membership really do *like* the board. I found this out when talking to members of my local group. Conversely AIUK Staff, who by far are the strongest descanting voice, are unable to use their contact lists to get in touch with membership and tell them that the board are presenting only one side of the story. (That's me being very polite, see later). However, despite these advantages the case for the changes did not convince the VAST majority of the people voting.

So are the board using this EGM as a chance to 'review the overall position of the section'? Or are they going to implement as much as they can as quickly as they can? From whispers I've heard it's quite clear that they are pushing forward no matter what.

I feel the membership of AIUK have been mislead by the people they are supposed to be represented by. The most heinous one being the idea that by telling the International Movement AIUK was not prepared at this time to increase their payments that AIUK would be excluded from the international movement, it would no longer be a part of it. Speaking to local members they felt that they couldn't vote 'yes' to a number of resolutions, but most notably resolution 2. AIUK is the single biggest contributing section in the whole of the movement. There is no way the International Movement would exclude AIUK. But the fear of the lie did it's work, causing the resolution to fail by less than 4%.

I believe the board are not acting in the best interested of the movement, not for the section or for the global movement as a whole. They are trying to change the face of what AI is, trying to make it something else. And they are trying to do it without taking it to AGM. The board have initiated a *huge* change in direction, creating visions and mission statements full of management speak of the worst kind, frittering AIUKs money away on consultants to do a job they should be able to do themselves.

That is not the point though. What matters is that the board are doing these things without the consent of the membership they are supposed to represent. If the feeling is 'phew, 74.66%. We won', then that is wrong. You cannot win! You can only listen to the section!

Please do so.

More information on EGM: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=12402

(1) In all fairness, despite the world in general sinking AIUK has made 2% year on year. This is a testiment to it's good name, and the work done by dedicated staff and activists.
(2) http://www.amnesty.org.nz/who-we-are/ai-aotearoa-new-zealand/international-council-meeting
(3) http://www.amnesty.org.uk/uploads/documents/doc_22874.pdf
(4) https://www.amnesty.org/en/who-we-are