“14 out of 15 trades unions fail the transparency test”

News reaches the Voice from Unlock Democracy, who have been carrying out investigations into the practices of the 15 unions currently affiliated to the Labour party. The research shows that 14 out of 15 trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party fail to explain to their prospective new members about affiliation and inform them that they have a legal right to opt out on their membership forms and website.

The top lines from the research are as follows:

  • Just 1 union (UNISON) mentions affiliating to the Labour Party.
  • UNISON is also the only union to allow new members to choose whether to affiliate to Labour or not on their membership form.
  • Only 2 others (the Musicians’ Union and USDAW) mention the existence of a political fund at all (but do not mention the Labour party).
  • 6 affiliated trade unions – including the largest (Unite) and third largest (GMB) – don’t mention the Labour Party at all anywhere on either the front page, “about us” or membership page of their website.

Unlock Democracy’s Director Peter Facey says of the research:

Talks over party funding are at a crucial stage and the last talks collapsed over disagreement about how trade unions should be treated. It is time Labour stopped being so defensive and looked at this as an opportunity not just to take big money out of politics but to actually strengthen its links with trade union members.

The fundamental issue is ensuring that trade union members are properly informed about the exact relationship between their union and the Labour Party. It is clear from this research that most trade unions are less than explicit about affiliation to new recruits.

The good news is that the second biggest contributor to Labour’s coffers – UNISON – provides a model example about how this can be improved. If trade unions want to defend their links with Labour, it is high time they stopped being so shy about it in practice.

You can read more about the findings from the research here (pdf).

* Nick Thornsby is Thursday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs here.

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8 Comments

  • Leekliberal 4th Oct '12 - 6:13pm

    As a Unison (and previously NALGO) member for over 50 years and a strong believer in the need for workers to join unions to protect their interests I can confirm how unbelievably difficult it was to contract out of paying money to the Labour Party . What devious people have lead my and other unions! However they have done the Lib Dems a favour by forcing inadequate Ed Miliband as Labour leader over David who the Labour members voted for and only because he sucked up to them. How it serves them right!

  • @leekliberal. I sorry but it really does not say much about you. Since UNISON was created in 1993 the application form has always had two clear choice boxes, one a general political fund and the second the affiliated fund which gives to the Labour Party. An instruction on each fund was on the application form. It has been that way since the union was formed via merger between COHSE, NALGO and NUPE. You mention you were in NALGO prior to UNISON. NALGO was not always so close to Labour and had a strong conservative supporting wing at one point (its founder was a tory agent)
    Its worth remembering why the modern Labour Party was created, it was to give a political voice to working people and the trade unions organised this voice having been frustrated at the slow pace of change delivered by Liberals. At the time the trade unions movement through various means gave large amounts of money to the Liberal Party and its MP’s constituency’s etc. The Liberal Party didn’t mind back than.

  • Neil Bradbury 4th Oct '12 - 10:52pm

    I was a UNISON then an AMICUS member for quite a while. In both cases, I actively tried to disaffiliate and in both cases I was told I would be reimbursed at the end of the year as it was too expensive to reduce the direct debit amount! Only once did I get the money back. In all cases, I still got publications like “Labour Link” and was often given ballot papers for various Labour elections. Unison give you the option of affiliating to a non Labour political fund but it instead funds a bunch of “preaching to the converted” causes. An example was when I went to a Billy Bragg concert and realised the UNISON officers all had free tickets as they were sponsoring the gig, which I would estimate is one of the gigs with the lowest level of non Union sympathetic concert goers!

  • Leekliberal 5th Oct '12 - 1:38pm

    All these problems about difficulties contracting out of giving money to Labour could be sorted simply by making the donation a positive decision. Like Neil Bradbury I still receive Labour propaganda such as Labour Link etc. but it would be nice to know it had been paid for by Labour supporters rather than filched out of the pockets of the unwary. Let us change the law now to contracting in and listen to Labour squeeling!

  • Thats right, lets bash the unions whilst ignoring yet again how the other parties are funded by people hiding thier millions in tax havens. Oh and who was it that formed the labour party, oh thats right……… THE UNIONS!!! but never let the facts get in the way of a good argument hey!!

  • jon

    There are two related but different issues regarding political party funding. The first, which is the topic of the article, is whether the contributor knows and positively consents to political levies on their contributions be given to specific political parties. With the laws having been tightened about corporate donations, I’m not aware of major sources of party funding (other than via the Unions) where a person can be unknowingly contributing to a political party. The second is whether the donation is from a bona fida UK national and taxpayer, which I think is what your first point was alluding to.

    Taking the logic of your second point, I take it that we shouldn’t be critical of the paramilitary organisations in N.Ireland because they formed the modern political parties that reached the Good Friday Agreement and have governed with some success since…

  • Leekliberal 5th Oct '12 - 6:33pm

    Jon says ‘ lets bash the unions whilst ignoring yet again how the other parties are funded by people hiding their millions in tax havens’ I say to him – Two wrongs do NOT make a right. In no other circumstances would you defend people having to contract out of making payment s to an organisation they do not support.

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