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 126.

    "The unions should spend their time starting a new party to back, of the people and for the people, abandoning these public school boys"


    Ed Miliband and most of Labour's front bench team went to state comprehensives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    It is an unfortunate fact that the ordinary working person in Britain today has no representation in parliament today. Politicians are like hired guns in it for the money and open to offers from the highest bidder.
    We do not need a mercenary parliament we need one which will stand up for what is right. Not what is right for the self serving parasites which occupy the house of commons at present.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Being a member of a Union doesn't mean your subscriptions should go to Labour, Their are ots of Tories who are in a Trade Union who must hate their money being paid to a party they don;t support. The time for reform of funding laws is long overdue

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    The problem here is overstated. The real problem, which seems to be ignored, is that we do not have people in politics, today, who are worthy of the word, LEADERS. None of the people coming into politics today are any good. We need real people who want to make this country great again, not schoolboy debaters. They are all truly pathetic!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    The unions should abandon New Labour;
    Blair's party was only for the middle classes who wanted to pretend they had a conscience but actually did not want a change to their comfy lives by paying for necessary improvements to society.

    New Labour was only ever the Tory Party Reserve Team.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    perhaps the reluctance of the Tories to disclose their true membership numbers lies in the possibility that they are so few they no longer represent anything other than a small super-rich elite who exercise influence disproportionate to their actual numbers? If not, why the secrecy? All a bit sinister!

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    To those who are saying `the unions should form thier own party' ....

    They did,....... it is the Labour party. It was as a result of the passing of a Railway union motion calling for the setting up of a party to represent workers at the 1899 TUC conference.

    The first Labour MPs were Yorkshire members of the National Unioni of Mineworkers

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Over the years I've CHOSEN to belonged to several different unions and ALWAYS been given the option of opting out of the political levy (ie the bit that goes to political parties).

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    @101.cosmarchy.....Sorry, who is this country run by, again? Unions or government?

    Neither, it is run by people with vested interests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    96. HD

    Thanks for the reply.
    I'm not trolling, it was a genuine question. I seem to remember seeing something about it on the 'your Britain' website a few months ago when applications were still open for consideration as a candidate. It just seemed a bit restrictive to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    1. The leading Union officials get paid more that the Prime Minister
    2. Unions completely and utterly hinder economic recovery
    3. Why are teachers striking just AFTER a 7 week holiday - do they really expect sympathy?
    4. Unions actually push me towards voting Tory

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Transparency is the right way forward for all parties. Nothing to hide nothing to fear! If a member wants to join the labour party, should be there choice. This might be a cobbled road there both going down but unlike the tories. This road is being travelled on, time to step up to the plate cameron. Not heard the unions rule labour in his ask the opposition questions for a while. Step up time..

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    99. continentview
    What ever you think about Unions - every country with strong respected Unions have better living standarts than Britain.
    Germany for example has 80% Union memebership of all working people.

    And German wages have not increased in real terms for 20 years. One of the reasons why they have 5% unemployment. Our Unions are too busy pricing people out of jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    The TUC and the unions are funded by its members to represent their interests. Members decide on policies by writing motions and voting on them.

    The political parties are funded are general funded by the rich and big business who only think in terms of their wealth and how to get and keep as much as possible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    This is what I don’t understand by this country

    In Africa when a party is in power, it has absolute power, and thy shall not criticise it and rightfully so

    Tories should shape this country the way they want, Labour should lick their wounds and try again when their opportunity comes
    For now, STOP criticising the Tories


  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    95 Boz
    The Labour Party certainly did have its roots in the Union movement, but its not there anymore, the "New Labour" tag has seen to that.Labour is now a party of the middle-right with a very slight nod to the working class, very slight.a union party is not a bad idea, back to its roots as opposed to Eton.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    I bet you get paid more than the fair wage don't you Frances?

    Union, council, charity and BBC bosses all get six figure salaries and expenses from us - the tax payers. They don't need to make a profit. They don't need to be efficient and they've got jobs for life.

    Until these parasites pay themselves less than 50K a year, they've got nothing to say to the workers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    53. Listener - According to that information and the lefts criteria of what constitutes a 'Daily Mail' reader, our Mr 'Ed' fits the bill. 99.
    continentview - They also have Union representation on the boards of companies and there is a great deal of difference between 80 percent and 35 percent (UK).

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Lobbying is a form of legalised bribery. It facilitates companies and interests from other countries influencing things that happen in the UK.

    Why should UK government be answerable to american companies like macdonalds but not answerable to the UK public ?

    Lobbying should be banned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Current party funding is a serious threat to our democracy. I propose the following simple amendment to the rules.

    'No person (legal or natural) may donate more than £10 per year to any political party'.

    Parties must be funded by mass membership. If they had to appeal to the people (attract members and their £10 fee) rather than a few rich donors we'd have a better political system.


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