Nothing striking in union funding of political parties
Challenging trade unions’ influence is grotesque when you consider the power of corporate donors
Challenging the right of unions to exercise political influence is a perennial issue in British politics. This is grotesque when you consider the huge amounts of money that enter the British political system through corporate donations. Individuals and groups will always seek to influence the political process. The public interest requires that political funding and the exercise of political influence should be as open as possible.
Voices of the marginalised
The essence of this argument is contained in an article on the Progress website: “Labour is immeasurably stronger because of the relationship it has with the unions: no other centre-left party in the world has unions formally affiliated to it. [This is wrong as it ignores the Irish case.] Not only have the unions historically ensured that the voices of some of the most marginalised in society are heard in the corridors of power, there is also strong international evidence to suggest that trade union activity plays a wider part in maintaining the health of democracy: it is, for instance, closely linked to ensuring higher voter turnout, particularly among working-class voters who might otherwise not go to the polls.”
The latest controversy has arisen at a time when David Cameron is again facing difficulties over the issue of “influence peddling”. As Seamus Milne wrote in the Guardian, “His election adviser, Lynton Crosby, is a lobbyist – for tobacco, alcohol, oil and gas companies – which is why the prime minister came under attack for dropping curbs on cigarette packaging and alcohol pricing. His party treasurer Peter Cruddas resigned after offering access to Cameron for a £250,000 party donation. His defence secretary, Liam Fox, resigned over his relationship with the lobbyist Adam Werritty.”
This comes just two years after Andy Coulson, Downing Street’s press secretary faced criminal charges for phone hacking while he worked for the Murdoch empire.
The central aim of trade unionism is to ameliorate the unjust effects of capitalism and to liberate working people from the dehumanising and commodifying effects of markets on a wider society. The means to this end are influence at the ballot box, collective bargaining and support for the development of welfare states. Influencing the outcome at the ballot box is a legitimate act.
Unions have been attempting to influence the actions of Labour parties on these islands for over 100 years. That they should seek to do so is hardly news. The real story of Falkirk is not the internal spat within the British Labour Party, it is in the way this dispute was magnified by Tory politicians to attack union funding, described by the Guardian as “probably one of the cleanest, most transparent and accountable money in British politics”.
Dr Peter Rigney is an industrial officer with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions