The BIEN general assembly on the last day disturbed me a bit. It just was not prepared. There was no real agenda. The chair got lost in some abstract debates that could have gone on all day. He did not seem aware, until Jurgen informed him, that we only had the room until 3 pm. It was all rather painful to watch "from the gallery".
There was a lot of business to conduct in two and a half hours. It might have been possible if there had been a prepared agenda and members had been briefed on the issues relating to them. And, if there was a skillful chair of the meeting.
They had five new organizations applying for membership. Three were national and two were multinational, which they had not had before. Portugal sent a letter, Norway sent a woman to speak on their behalf, and France sent two people. The multinationals were the new UBIE group, and an African group which I believe sent no delegate.
Norway and France discussed what they were doing, and why they merited BIEN membership. France in particular was still going through intense debates about their founding principles. All three countries were unanimously accepted.
UBIE has not come to agreement about internal structure. Yet they have 25 member countries now, and are holding regular meetings. The delegate was the chair of UBIE, and the woman I talked with about local currencies. They grew out of the group which collected 300 000 signatures with which to petition the European Government.
Much of their internal fighting was about not including a statement about the benefit being high enough to live on. But when polled, their members agreed 26 to 4 to affiliate without this clause.
Someone objected to their enrollment, saying that it was important not to have competing organizations. "Why not," I thought. What is wrong with a little creative competition, to show who is really effective in mobilizing the public? The only rule would be, do not interfere with each other.
Some people seemed to want to talk out the "incremental" approach of this group versus the "all at once" approach of the "Yes" group in the Swiss referendum on a BI, if it took all day and half the night. Some thought UBIE was duplicating the BIEN of twenty years ago. This went on for awhile until the realization that there was not unlimited time. The chair seemed unable to wrap the discussion up and there was an intervention to have the issue of multinational member organizations deferred to the executive council.
They moved on to the matter of where to hold the next BIEN congress. Korea, the Netherlands, and Finland had applied. Korea was clearly the best organized, handing out a well produced brochure outlining their activities. They were clearly much better funded and capable than the other two groups.
There was a motion to limit all three groups to two minutes. They had come from around the world to speak and they were going to get two minutes. This was rejected. Jurg announced he had convinced the cleaning staff to hold off for another half an hour, but they were standing at the door with their mops and buckets.
Someone tried to start a debate about the appropriateness of having the next congress outside of Europe. There was some idea that it should alternate between Europe and the rest of the world. As a rest of the world person, I found that a bit condescending.
Someone also thought that the next meeting should be in Europe to help focus attention there on a BI, because that was where things were happening, referendums were being held. Someone else insisted that all that was likely to have been decided one way or other by 2016. A couple of members of the executive, including this really tough woman from New York, walked out in evident disgust.
The chair was simply incapable of cutting short these debates and instead became involved in them. He said that BIEN had never had this problem before, of having so many things to discuss at a meeting. Also, of having more than one group seeking to host a congress. Usually it is a lot of arm twisting to get some group to do it.
But that is not an excuse. It is time for BIEN to either develop into a fully effective organization or get out of the way. A more sensible person intervened and urged that the remaining matters be deferred to the executive, pending further information. But the Dutch and Finnish delegates had been conferring together and announced that they were withdrawing their applications in favor of Korea.
Some people still wanted to keep arguing as the BIEN general meeting adjourned, the members drifted out, and the mop and bucket brigade moved in. I guess they continued in a coffee shop somewhere, which is where most of these discussions should have started and ended.
Thats all, thats it, they will see each other in Korea in two years. I will not be there.
I have seen meetings of the resident's association of the Regent Park social housing development run more effectively and with more decorum than this. It may be more difficult to run an organization whose members are scattered over the world, but these are mostly well educated people. They should be able to do better than this.
Really, for an organization of this type, the only thing that needs to be handled by a general meeting is election of officers and amendments to the constitution. Everything else should be left to the executive. The issues around whatever is to be voted on must be presented to the voting members well in advance of the meeting.
I do not think they have any written by-laws. I do not know how officers get elected. I think you become a voting member by paying a life time fee. It is an organization of people who like to talk, not do. It needs to be taken in hand by people who want to do.
I now appreciate how well organized BICN has become in six years, seeing what a mess this group is after 28 years of existence. I think the key is getting the right founding nucleus, and then growing by inviting, not electing, new members of the core group.
You need some academics involved, and many of them do understand that the real world does not work the same way as a university. Especially, that it does not work the way people with a rationalist mindset want it to. But the BICN core leans toward activist types, and that is a start.
However, there are different kinds of activists as well. There is a type who are determined to be in control; the rule it or wreck it types. More like, the rule and wreck types, because they have a totally unrealistic idea of their own competence. You also have the hobby horse types and the ideological warriors. These people are not really interested in BI and need to be firmly discouraged.
Now it is a matter of building Basic Income Canada Network, and letting BIEN deal with its own problems. We have at least the beginnings of a plan, and out of this congress some good ideas of what the founding principles must be, if we have all been paying attention.
My final posting on the BIEN congress will have my reflections on that and a few other odds and ends.