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 346.

    The funding debate is back on Cameron's desk. Milliband "the weak leader" addressed his funding issue but Cameron "the strong leader" refuses to limit personal donations to £5K. The result as Frances O'Grady has said is that a disproportionate amount of the Tory Party is funded by the City, and surprise , surprise nothing has been enacted by the Government to prevent the crisis occurring again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    So high demands by Unions didn't make industry less competitive? 'Thatcher reduced Union power and Brown inherited a strong growing economy.

    Read the post and it says other factors had a higher impact. The post was also about manufacturing, not the service sector industry Brown inherited - hence changing the name of industrial relations to employee relations in the 1980s

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    Hilarious, the union parasites are terrified, they can see their perks and their chances to bloat themselves on tax money disappear, they see the wilderness as their political plaything jettisons them so they are doing what all left wing politics does - hypocritically cloak themselves in a false mantel of morality. Unions are an anachronism, time to pull the plug on these 70s bullies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    Would that exclude the £1.4m donation from National Conservative Draws Society, Disraeli House. Wonder what they want for that amount? Or the £1.5m from IPGL Limited. Or the £5m from Sir Paul Getty? Would these be covered by the £390,000 limit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    If nothing else gets settled this week at conference the left can blame their divisions and infighting on Thatcher.

    She's dead and buried now but don't let that stop you.

    Your great leader Tony Blair got rid of Saddam Hussein 7 years ago. But they're still fighting and killing each other in Iraq.

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    Political parties should only receive funds from people who are legal, bona fide members of that party

    simple as that

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    If anyone can remember the crowds of men on the banks outside Leyland Longbridge and Cowley - "all in favour of a stoppage show your hands". Those that are culpable for the own nothing, make nothing, extends across the political spectrum. Badly led and badly managed we failed to invest in the same talented "DNA" that destroyed the spectre of a Nazi invasion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    Ah the dinosaur Roars ... but nobody cares or listens because soon they and their belief that they actually keep the country running will soon be extinct .... welcome to the New Age !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    The Unions are dinosaurs. Yes we would all like to be earning stupid money but Nationalised industries do not work just as Communism does not work. Great theory but if you are not judged by results or paid by results everything comes down to the lowest common denominator, why work any quicker or harder than the slowest or laziest member of the work force if you end up with the same money anyway?

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    I have lost jobs in the past because I would not join the union because of the Labour surcharge. Generally, unions are good for the workforce but when they try to become too political then that is when they lose popularity. You do not need to be Ultra left wing to be ina union

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    Frances O'Grady better be very careful in trying to rubbish Conservative MP's because they come from the "financial sector. A goodly proportion of Labour MPs are ex- Trade Union aparatchiks or social workers and a significant number stood on picket lines and use thug tactics trying to stop ordinary people doing their jobs - one of these was elected in 2010!

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    #327 cholmes said " Also on growth Labour lost 7.5% of our economy between 2008-2009 (an all time record)"

    I think you'll find most of the worlds growth dropped to an all time low that year with mass unemployment and bail outs. Let me see now, what could that have been caused by? Maybe it was the biggest financial crash in history, maybe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    326 piro

    'It has morphed into the party of the benefit scrounger and the immigrant.'

    And the public sector worker. Hence recruiting 1m extra union members with borrowed money in 2001. A decision that pump-primed a massive housing bubble and the largest deficits in the civilised world when the borrowing had to stop.

    And Labour apologists know this. The ones with 'O' level maths at least.

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    When I joined Unison I had the choice of political or non-political membership (where funds were not allocated to the Labour Party). I'm sure this option still exists now, so you don't have to support a political party if you don't want to. I never joined until I became aware of this option.

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    ..cheaper goods from foreign countries and lack of investment destroyed industry more than the unions.... and we had a Tori govt 1979-1990 and did NOTHING to buck the trend..

    So high demands by Unions didn't make industry less competitive? Thatcher reduced Union power and Brown inherited a strong growing economy, 1980 tories corrected Labour wrongs, so is the coalition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    So, the new TUC boss talks of people having "far too much money" – and they want to outlaw zero hours contracts.

    The unions are living in the past. As a modern Tory and a strong Coalition supporter, this is music to my ears. If you add in the affiliation fee row and the prospect of Miliband getting a drubbing tomorrow, things could hardly be more rosy.

    Cameron is looking stronger by the day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    Maybe the lady has a point? After all,the Cons receive about 50% of their funding from the city.How many of THEM were in some way responsible for the 2008 financial crash? And then there's the 'dinners with Dave' thing. Seems logical to assume that any pecuniary gift isn't made entirely with altruistic motives. People who live in glasshouses' etc? Maybe the STAFF ought to vote b4 a gift is made?

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    Can't see why this is a problem. Before I retired I had been in two unions, ASTMS (over 25 years ago) and CWU. Both allowed you to opt out of political levy - and, being a Tory, I did. I think a lot of people think that by joining a union they are obliged to pay political levy as well as their union subs but they can already opt out. Don't need more laws to make it work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    RE 296.martin3647
    "It is time for political parties to be funded from the public purse"

    Absolute rubbish - if you want a political party pay for it yourself

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.


    Nice cherry picking. Yes the deficit in 2008 was lower, but the following year it was £156.3bn (a peacetime record) and has been falling ever since the election in 2010. Also on growth Labour lost 7.5% of our economy between 2008-2009 (an all time record). Gaining 0.9% in growth in the two periods that followed is hardly outstanding and has been bettered repeatedly since 2010.


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