Trade Unions and Political Influence

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2014 National Delegate Conference
29 January 2014
Carried as Amended

Political decisions have an enormous impact on the lives of our members. In seeking to promote and defend the interests of our members it is legitimate that we attempt to influence who is in a position to take such decisions and what decisions they take. It would be a disservice to our members if we were not positively engaged in public debate.

UNISON is amongst the biggest membership organisations in the UK. We are part of civil society and we have a distinctive voice in public debate. We are a large organisation, a democratic organisation, and an organisation with an interest and expertise across a range of public policy issues.

The political system is more open to some interests than to others. There is a need for greater transparency and to clean up politics. Incidents where private interests are seen to buy influence – including allegations of MPs accepting money to ask questions in Parliament – have led Prime Minister David Cameron to suggest that lobbying will be the ‘next big scandal’ to consume Parliament. But the predominance of corporate interests can be more insidious – for example through the close relationships and sometimes porous boundaries between the top levels of government and corporations. The prevalence of corporate interests is the principle distortion of the political system.

It is this dominance of corporate interests that leads to governments of various political complexions pursuing unpopular privatisation policies – that damage services and jobs but provide low-risk profits for the powerful.

Conference notes with concern the failure of all three main parties to address corporate power in political decision-making.

Conference condemns the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. The Bill does nothing to address the prevalence of corporate interests. Instead, it is charities, campaign groups and especially trade unions which are subject to an increased burden of regulation of normal political activities.

It is not a surprise that the Conservative Party would pursue such a negative change as it is funded primarily by rich individuals with links to corporate interests. Hedge fund founders are amongst the largest individual donors to the Conservatives, and have donated millions of pounds since the last election.

Conference believes that the Labour Party’s focus on internal constitutional arrangements in 2013/14, culminating in the Special Conference in March 2014, was irrelevant to the main concerns of the wider general public that is reeling under the government’s austerity policies. It also failed to counter the central problem in the political system – that of the dominance of corporate interests.

Conference recognises the importance of the statutory political fund review ballot taking place in late-2014, and the need to secure a fresh mandate from UNISON members for the union’s vital political work.

Conference calls on the National Executive Council to:

1)Campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote in the political fund review ballot;

2)Oppose any increase in state funding of political parties;

3)Campaign for a future Labour government to repeal anti-union legislation on lobbying introduced by the Con-Dems.