Socialist Worker

Should unions be stopped from funding Labour?

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2080

While scandals about rich businessmen’s relationships to the Labour Party unravel, it has been trade unions that have come in for attack in sections of the media.

The Tories are using Gordon Brown’s crisis to push for a cap on union donations to Labour. Crisis-stricken Brown looks open ot the idea.

We should not allow the Tories to dictate the agenda on this question.

Workers’ organisations were central to the founding of the Labour Party. This provided political representation and a voice in parliament for ordinary people.

For over a century the trade unions have provided a financial and political bedrock for the Labour Party.

Now that bedrock is cracking – a process driven by the deep disaffection among trade union members with New Labour over everything from war to pay and privatisation.


Labour, with its massive haemorrhaging of members, relies more and more on donations from the rich.

Part of the New Labour project was to make it a “classless” party, appealing at the same time to rich and poor, powerful and vulnerable, businessmen and workers.

In practice this meant that business came first.

The party is so committed to neoliberalism that it desperately wants big business and the rich to back it.

Labour still depends , however, on union funding to the tune of around £8 million a year.

Labour under Brown treats the unions like an embarrassing relative.

It returns again and again for the unions’ money, but offers nothing in return.

But that doesn’t mean we should take lectures on democracy from Tories backed by multimillion pound tax exiles, or from anti-union Labour Party hacks who want to break the ties with the unions.

The rich dominate all aspects of our society. To counteract that working people need to organise collectively.

That means organising against the bosses, not just economically – but politically.

We should defend the right of unions to fund political parties. But if Labour wants to get our money it should do something to deserve it.

Union political funds should be used to support political campaigns and parties that are prepared to defend pay, jobs and services.

That means activists redoubling our efforts to build an alternative to Labour and to push for the democratisation of the unions’ political funds.

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