TUC boss Frances O'Grady turns fire on Tories over funding reform plans


Frances O'Grady: "Union money is the cleanest cash in politics"

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The head of the UK's union movement has told David Cameron to take a "long hard look in the mirror" before making changes to political funding laws.

The government wants to put a cap of £390,000 on the amount of money that organisations other than parties spend on campaigning around election time.

But TUC leader Frances O'Grady said the Conservatives could not "shut us up" and unions would defend themselves.

Delegates later voted for a "campaign of co-ordinated industrial action".

The Unison motion, which also calls for zero hour contracts to be outlawed, was passed overwhelmingly at the TUC's annual conference.

The issue of money and politics has dominated the start of the event in Bournemouth.

Several union general secretaries have attacked Labour's Ed Miliband over his plans to scrap the automatic "affiliation fee" paid by millions of union members to the party.

He says this will lead to more people opting to become full party members instead, while his detractors argue this is unrealistic.


But, in her first conference speech since becoming TUC general secretary earlier this year, Ms O'Grady attempted to draw attention to another row, between the unions and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government.

In July, ministers introduced the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill, which would set a £390,000 cap on the amount any organisation - excluding political parties - could spend helping candidates and parties across the UK during elections.

Following opposition from charities and many MPs, the government introduced several changes last week.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations said its demands had been "significantly met", but the TUC insists the government has not made enough concessions and that freedom on speech could be under threat.

In her speech, Ms O'Grady said: "Whether unions set up a political fund is a matter for members, not ministers, because for too long, politics has been controlled by those who already have far too much money and far too much power.

"Half the Conservative Party's funding comes from the City. One third of its new intake of MPs are drawn from the banking industry alone and we know what happens when the super-rich get to run the tax system."

She added: "In contrast, unions are Britain's biggest democratic membership movement of ordinary people.

"We are already required by law to report our membership records every year. We have more than 10 times the membership of all of Britain's political parties put together. It may even be more. The truth is, we simply don't know.

"Because political parties don't have to account for their members in the way that we have to account for ours. In fact, the Conservative Party refuses point blank to say how many members it has.

"So before he starts lecturing unions about transparency, the prime minister should take a long hard look in the mirror.

"We already publish our numbers. I challenge David Cameron to publish his."

'Met concerns'

On Friday, the Leader of the House of Commons, Andrew Lansley, indicated the government would not make any further concessions, saying: "I heard what the charities and voluntary organisations had to say.

"While we always were clear that we had no intention of preventing them campaigning on policies and issues as they always have, I wanted the bill to be as clear as it could possibly be.

"So I am very glad that I have been able to meet the concerns of voluntary organisations, while ensuring that the bill still regulates effectively when organisations directly try to promote election candidates and parties."

Ms O'Grady, the TUC's first female leader, said political parties should run on a manifesto promising decent jobs, full employment, a million new council and affordable houses, fair pay and workers' rights, and an NHS run for the people and not for profit.

She urged activists to "roll up their sleeves" and influence Labour policy in the run-up to the 2015 general election, rather than accept a "vanilla version".

Ms O'Grady, who was given a standing ovation, added: "I want to challenge politicians of all parties to tell us where they are [on issues]."

She also said: "For trades unionists to argue that voting is a waste of time is a danger, one that puts us into the hands of our opponents."

The Congress will debate issues including pay, jobs, welfare and anti-austerity campaigning.

Labour leader Ed Miliband will give a speech on Tuesday, while his deputy, Harriet Harman, will meet union leaders at a private dinner on Monday night in an effort to relieve tensions.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    What a ludicrous figure Ed Milliband cuts today.He is leader solely because of union support and now he says he wants his party to have nothing more to do with them.The poor man does not know which way to turn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    A big difference between funding from Unions and 'Big Business' or the City is that Unions are affiliated to Labour.

    Businesses choose which political party to donate to.
    As with Formula 1 and its £1million donation to Labour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    "Delegates later voted for a "campaign of co-ordinated industrial action".

    No need to read further, folks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    I remember when the unions mattered. Now they half the number of members and no policies except the same old failed ones. They represent nobody outside the public sector. Did you see the dozen diehards who turned up to demand a general strike? Where's the TUC? Oh, he's over there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Unions are a pressure group of self interests, no different from companies. Whether it be Unions representing the interests of members, or companies representing the interests of shareholders - both are ultimately members of the public. Both should be treated the same when it comes to bribing politicians to legislate for their vested interest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Why don't they have conferences in the holiday season?

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    I don't want the Unions buying influence. I don't want big business buying influence. I want democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I agree,create your own party and throw your hat into the ring.I agree that the Labour top brass are about as working class as Moet champagne and foit gras,so dump them and go on your own.If the people want you they will vote you in,if they don't they won't.

    Modern politics is a cesspit of the elite.It wouldnt be so bad if they were any good,the problem is they are the worst elite in decades.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Utter rubbish. The Unions created the Labour Party, to enable workink people a political voice. We need to abolish New Labour and re-create a proper Labour Party that has the needs of the populace as its priority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    I'm sure the longer Cameron looks hard in the mirror the bigger his smile gets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    cap of £390,000 .... around election time.

    All this equates to is election fund raising will largely move to pre-election time, so partys will be forced to make deals with funders long before any election.

    Labour was founded & financed by unions & a few socialist benefactors, it will do much less damage to Labour financing than Milibands own policys.

    Does the cap also include individuals

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    "Political parties should run on a manifesto promising decent jobs, full employment, a million new council and affordable houses, fair pay and workers' rights, and an NHS run for the people and not for profit."

    Funny how they only managed 1 out of 6 of these things during their 13 years of power though.

    Anyone who believes they will do any better next time round is delusional.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    More hot air and huff and puff! rather than a multitude of strike calls, the unions should try and help fix this country, strikes do no-one any good these days, the union boss still gets paid while the strikers dont! SA for 0hr contracts the unions & labour did nothing while in power and these types of contracts went up, see ONS figures (drop till 2004 then steady rise)

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Milliband, private education, personal £7million wealth, committed marxist, never worked a day in his life.

    Labour represents the working class how?

    The modern labour party is made up of those middle class types who think they're doing good but end up doing more harm. We don't want handouts, we want dignity and we want proper jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Unions. Start a new political party and spend your money on that..... New Labour no longer speaks for you or for us!

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    @36.Ron, great in theory, however in practice its unworkable,as there is nothing to stop the TUC running its own campaign, to support labour outside of the Labour parities own campaign.

    That is the curx of the matter, thus you have to remove the option which is what the Tories are trying to do, so that all activity thats related to political campaigning is declared.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Why do we need reform of political party funding? Whatever is done there will always be some under-handed way of circumventing the system which is in being.

    The fact is the Trade Unions are getting all upset because their members can choose whether to opt-in or out of making a contribution to the Labour Party instead of the Unions just taking a portion without any redress at all to their members.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Most employees who are in industries represented by unions have no choice but to pay the union fees otherwise you will not last the probation period (i will not name the industries, but we all know that it is standard practice in many sectors). Thus, no matter what the persons personal political leanings, they are funding the Labour party and also funding campaigns against other parties.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Unions call yet again for industrial action. When will the "comrades" start to see the light namely that without productivity businesses go bust as others around the workd take their sales. No wonder that the unions only have any real voice in the public sector where no-one has to earn a bean but just spend shed-loads!

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    it's not and just coz you ytype the word Fact doesn't make it so, joining the Union is voluntary once you have joined the Labour mebership is automatic******FACT**** see menas nothing.

    I notice you didn't comment on the rest of my post about the Post office sell off, it was a labour party idea...


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