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 426.

    What is the turnout in union elections?
    What is the turnout in parliamentary elections?
    The tail is wagging the dog and the tails are getting handsomely rewarded for it.
    Perhaps we need a rethink?

  • rate this

    Comment number 425.

    424. It held that as capitalism has succeeded feudalism, it too will be removed by a dictatorship of the workers (proletariat) called socialism, followed quickly and inevitably by a classless society which governs itself without a governing class or structure. I think the key words there are Socialism and Proletariat. Proletariat = Unions = Strike to achieve their aims.

  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    "And that's what they should concentrate on instead of stirring up hatred with outdated marxist political clap trap and confrontational policies."

    You clearly have no concept of marxism nor what it is and what it means so why you insist on commenting only you know. The unions are not marxist and never were throughout their history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    409 " Balls and Miliband consigned to the same fate as Michael Foot. Isn't it simply delicious?" - fantastic, again the "borrow to waste message" beloved of left winger tax guzzlers everywhere (especially the BBC) is proven wrong and firmly rejected. When Foot died there was a lot of revisionism - everyone seems to forget what an utter joke his policies were and what disaster his party caused.

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    If both major political parties had their way then neither of them would receive any funds.

    What's not to like?

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    You do understand that unions represent their members and pay legal fees if you are treated unfairly at work or unfairly dismissed or have an accident etc.

    And that's what they should concentrate on instead of stirring up hatred with outdated marxist political clap trap and confrontational policies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    415 york

    'every government over the past 40 years as robbed the working man and woman pensions by changing the laws on pensions'

    Pensions are unaffordable. When pensions were brought in in 1918(?) hardly anybody lived to claim them. Now we live about 20 years longer on average. Worse, there is no 'pot'. That pension comes out of your kids taxes and, but for immigration, there'd be less kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    Oh dear lots of anti-union comments by people who have never been members. You do understand that unions represent their members and pay legal fees if you are treated unfairly at work or unfairly dismissed or have an accident etc. You can't discuss this subject rationally with anti-union right wingers because they hate someone getting something they aren't. Politics of envy and spite.

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.

    414 elm

    'Capitalism redistributes wealth from the poor to the rich systemically'

    If that were true then, after several thousand years of capitalism there would be only one very, very rich person and the rest of us would be as poor as church mice.

    Instead we have entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs who become insanely rich in their own lifetimes. And the rest of us do all right too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 417.

    412. During the 'Tent City' at St Pauls, there were Teachers occupying tents in shifts, returning home and to work during their 'down time'. You couldn't make it up. Their attitude 'I am protesting as long as I am not affected'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 416.

    I'm all in favour of requiring individual opt-ins from union members, as long as the £390K cap applies to each member individually, not to the total for their union, and as long as corporate donations are banned outright. Or, if corporations are still going to be allowed to make donations in whatever way they like, unaccountably, then unions should be given the same right. Fair's fair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    every government over the past 40 years as robbed the working man and woman pensions by changing the laws on pensions
    It seems as if they get in to power and look for every way they can to every ones pension but there own and we fall for it every time

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    390 Phil "blinkered lefties assume by default that wealth is always a symptom of corruption and greed..."

    Actually they don't assume this. Capitalism redistributes wealth from the poor to the rich systemically not as a result of corruption or greed nor as a result of any particular worth on the part of the rich which is why justice demands redistribution in the other direction through taxation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    Lets think according to the two Eds the economy is on its knees, so the Unions answer is lets go on strike. Osborne's statement backed by the OECD is that the economy is on the turn, Mr Ed says it is still bad for the ordinary workers. What would it be like under Labour? the coalition have already said it will get worse before better. The truth is Labour are coming with a fur coat and no knickers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    402 Utter drivel that could have been written by a unionised teacher. Education standards are at the lowest ebb for years, exams now have "G" grades, utterly without use to anyone. Teachers pensions have been an unfunded scandal for years, you could always pick up a second job during your 13 weeks off to supplement the shortfall.

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    @401. Your post is rather confusing. While Tories regard the unions as an archaic throwback, resisting modernisation and failing to recognise economic circumstances, I don't think poorly paid Tories blame the unions. It is poorly paid socialists that by default blame their situation on others- "no jobs", "lost generation", "no EMA", etc, etc. Labour is not the party of aspiration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    If the Conservatives win in 2015 we are doomed

    If the Labour win in 2015 we are doomed because much of what the Conservatives put in place will cost to much to undo

    If the Lib Dems win in 2015 we are doomed

    If UKIP win in 2015 we are doomed because some of there policies are no better than Conservatives or Labour
    HS2 cost out of control all ready Schools NHS in a mess with no control

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    So THAT'S what fear smells like.

    You can smell the panic coming from the Labour apologists. The realisation that Ned Balls has been proven wrong, wrong and thrice wrong. The realisation that Ned Miliband really is a Fluck and Law creation with a comedy nasal voice that repels voters.

    Balls and Miliband consigned to the same fate as Michael Foot.

    Isn't it simply delicious?

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    @394. HOMESandSMALL

    Let me point out that teachers unions aren't even affiliated to the Labour Party!

    But they do represents teachers.

    A totalitarian regime would remove trade unionism including the right to strike. Is that what you stand for?

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    Is that the bit where Labour tax everyone and then give it to the lazy, the serially pregnant and the workshy in return for votes

    So those sat at home due to millions of job losses through Tori cuts are just lazy? Same with school leavers? Maybe the lazy should take a leaf from the govt and try to rob funds from an old ladies will?


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