Should we care about union conferences?

I have absolutely no idea how much a trades union conference costs – probably not too difficult to find out, but I haven’t bothered. Nor, if truth be told have I ever attended a union conference or bothered to watch one on TV.
In fact, I don’t know anybody who has – I am a union member and I haven’t ever attended. Is that a problem?
Well – yes and no:
Yes – in so much as by not going I am not knowing and it reduces any membership I have to the level of a loyalty card for a supermarket – erm, actually no, I quite often use my loyalty card.
No – it hasn’t impacted on me so far and probably the reception in the hall would be awful and I wouldn’t be able to use twitter.
Anyway, I can always find out what was discussed through the press and therein lies a problem.
Chances are that is where most people find out about the outcomes of the conferences and what I tend to find is diet of strike and boycott. When a press report from the NUT conference related a debate to strike action where a delegate had shouted from the floor “We are the public!” In response to the point that further strike action might not be well received by the public at large.
Surely part of any membership fee pays for a press department who work at media relations – what are they doing?
If, as a profession, we are to start to win some of the debates then we need hearts and minds of the public at large – not simply those of the delegates in a conference hall. I see far too little of any attempt to genuinely engage the public and rather an expectation that they will understand or care about the issues. Why should they? Especially if the Daily Mail can so easily characterise a conference, therefore a union and therefore a profession as being wildly left wing and out of touch with the thoughts of the tax paying public who we serve.
If conferences don’t make things better or clearer why have them? If they are that important why not have a joint conference and save membership frees – the issues are the same and the press could be better managed.
Then the energies that formerly went into conference organisation could go instead into engagement with the public so they know and care about the issues – Doctors are very good at this.
Does that mean a single union? Well, let’s see if we can all share a stage first.

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